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Internet Freedom Foundation: Protecting Our Digital Rights

The Problem

In India's fast-paced digital world, where smartphones are becoming indispensable, an astounding 75% of users are unaware of the privacy settings on their social media accounts. 42% of internet users enter the virtual world without fully understanding the terms and conditions they unintentionally agree to, demonstrating an even greater lack of awareness. Many people are unaware of the complex world of cookies, which makes them susceptible to invasive settings that surreptitiously monitor their online activities. Profiting from this informational vacuum, advertisers use complex algorithms to examine user data and bombard people with relevant advertisements - often without getting their permission. An organization such as the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) becomes indispensable in this context.

A typical internet user's situation is similar to the larger problem.

One concerned citizen put it this way:

"Many Indians are unaware of their legal rights, and this ignorance serves as a breeding ground for cybercrime. As we navigate the digital world, our personal information is like an open book, licked by curious eyes."

This attitude reflects the general custom of accepting cookies without reading the confusing terms and conditions.

As a result of companies using their data without their express consent, users are put in the unsettling position of receiving advertisements f rom brands they occasionally mention. Our data is easily accessible to tech giants like Facebook and WhatsApp, thanks to the manipulative power of algorithms that operate invisibly.

Into the digital mist comes the Internet Freedom Foundation, a guiding light. IFF aims to close the information gap and raise citizens' awareness of their rights and the consequences of their digital footprint by educating, advocating for, and empowering people.

The Response

IFF protects online privacy by demystifying cookies, clarifying the cryptic language of terms and conditions, and opposing the intrusive practices of tech giants and advertisers. The organization works to empower users against algorithms designed to deceive and manipulate them, giving them back control over their digital identities and a life free from the shadows of unjustified surveillance.

To put it simply - IFF' s (Internet Freedom Foundation) mission is to promote and protect people's digital rights in India. They're trying to do it through an array of strategic litigation, arguing before the court to create a solution that benefits both policy and parliamentary involvement and civic literacy. They're a young organization, filled with people passionate about working for the cause. Organizations with a consistent focus on these issues independently shall be key to highlighting this long-term, sustained impact.

In an interview with us, Prateek Waghre - Executive Director of IFF says

“We are committed to advancing freedom through policy engagement, civic literacy, and strategic litigation. Currently, only a few organizations champion these crucial efforts. We must expand our collective impact to enhance advocacy by fostering new organizations dedicated to these principles. Our ongoing collaboration with the union government is a positive step, and we must extend this engagement to include state governments for more comprehensive solutions. By broadening our scope and partnerships, we can create a more robust framework for advocating and safeguarding freedom.”

Source: Internet Freedom Foundation's Instagram page

Using the Dark Patterns Guidelines as an example, Prateek explained that the Ministry has put forward a robust interim framework for the oversight and control of irregular patterns. However, in the area of stakeholder consultation about guidelines on dark patterns, there is a potential for improvement. To do so, IFF has prepared observations that identify the five main areas of concern.

In addition, they have been conducting an ongoing community survey to identify common dark patterns in our daily experiences, currently active and accepting responses. The compiled results have been presented to the Ministry, which demonstrates a broad and dynamic environment of such deceptive design practices.

The Limitations

While the Internet Freedom Foundation’s mission has aimed to promote and protect people's digital rights in India, it has met with significant limitations along the way. As a young organization, there are a number of limitations in the form of legal and social barriers, Prateek says they have encountered. First of all, it was of utmost importance that people were aware of the difference between the privacy they desire and the privacy they seemingly get. In order to tackle this, Prateek and his team at IFF had to break through socio-cultural barriers.

Another limitation that Prateek encountered during his early years with the organization was that of the lack of solutions for the Dark Patterns resulting in a violation of an individual's consumer rights. It was not till 2023 that the Ministry of Consumer Affairs decided to regulate them in consumer interest, for which they released the Guidelines for Prevention and Regulation of Dark Patterns for public consultation that there was some form of solution that Prateek and his team could adopt. He also explains that it was due to the government measures and the intensive effort of the team at IFF that they were able to combat the limitations facing them.

This constructive story has been written by student journalists of the Re-Imagining Media Program. We are thankful to Mr. Prateek Waghre for his time and for answering all our questions patiently.

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