Understanding Consumers’ Perspective on Encryption

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Instant messaging services derive their popularity from the fact that they solve basic human need of talking and communicating with others. In this regard, they are like a postcard or a normal telephone. However, these services can do something which a postcard or a telephone can’t — making it difficult for others to overhear, thus enabling security in communication by ensuring privacy and anonymity.

Privacy is necessary to safeguard sensitive matters such as banking information, medical history, personal relationships, and the ability to explore unpopular or potentially embarrassing points of view. Also, it has been argued that right to communicate anonymously is part of freedom of speech and expression under the fundamental right to privacy.

Such privacy and anonymity are made possible through end-to-end encryption (E2E) technology, which is increasingly being used for conversations, sharing images, conducting business and making video calls. Data protection tools like encryption are deployed by platforms for free and by default for all users.

Despite increasing use of the encrypted communication services, it is not clear if consumers are aware of its role in securing communication, enhancing privacy and upholding free speech. Limited literature exists on consumers’ perspectives (awareness, perceptions, purposes, experiences, utility they derive, and expectations) of secured communication services, particularly in developing countries like India.

Also, there has been increasing risk of secured communications being used for illegal purposes. Owing to the focus on technology service providers, the role of consumers in preventing misuse of secured communication services has been ignored and underestimated. There is a need to understand how consumers deal with problematic content on communication services.

To this end, being a consumer facing organisation, CUTS is undertaking a project on understanding consumers’ perspectives on secured communication services through on ground consumer interactions and relevant secondary research.