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Why Data Is Called The New Oil And How It Endangers Our Freedom Of Choice

“Data is the new oil” is a phrase first used in 2006 by Clive Robert Humpy, a British mathematician and data scientist. The conjecture then is logically reasoned today. Data has become the new most valuable resource, defeating oil.

When oil was first discovered, it became the most sought fuel to meet the mobile energy demands that would ‘run’ the world. What oil mining is for crude oil, data mining is for digital data. Data has become a commodity to capitalise on. In an ushering global digital economy, everything runs on data.

What Oil Was For The Industrial Age, Data Is For The Digital Age

Data analysis, data science and data mining, among others, are the processes employed to deliver personalised services. The more an AI knows about us through machine learning and its programming, the better its algorithms target us with things of our cognitive liking in terms of digital content, advertising, inter alia. So much so that it eventually dictates our interests through psychological programming and takes away our agency.

Big tech giants including Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Twitter bank on the data collected by them – by following our digital footprints, online activities, web surfing and so forth, both overtly and covertly. We are rarely given an option to ‘opt-out’ of this surveillance unless we specifically search for it in their settings and exclusively turn it off. This, too, leaves us with little space to breathe privacy as we have already given multiple permissions to these apps/sites when we first checkmarked their ‘terms and conditions’.

The challenges of cyber-attacks, identity theft, phishing, malware, deep fake, cloning, data militancy are just drops in an ocean of cybersecurity loopholes.

The data collected by these giants is not only our personal information but also our ‘choices’, things we search online, the information we seek about any topic, what we buy, how we interact with people, and so on. On these bases, we are bombarded with similar content to keep us hooked to our devices and scroll endlessly until doom. It might appear to be catering to our needs on the face of it, giving us personalised experiences and convenient entertainment, but it also has dangerous repercussions as it boxes us into echo chambers, gradually radicalising and polarising us through the same ideological content. Especially those who are media-illiterate are more prone to getting swayed.

The constant pushing of ads of things we search on the web promotes consumerism and unhealthy buying habits. The online cultivation of human personality affects personal human behaviours, relationships and decision-making. FOMO is one example.

Is Our Data Safeguarded?

When we use online media and their services for free, without paying for the commodity, we (i.e. our data) become the commodity. 

India is yet to have a Personal Data Protection Act in place. This is when cyberspace — the fourth estate after air, water and land — is bourgeoning as more people are coming online. A huge chunk of our personal data is being collected through our online activities – our searches, GPS, emails, messages, likes, comments, impressions, cookies, etc. pose a serious threat to our privacy as they exploit our vulnerabilities. We are monitored and never at personal liberty in the digital world. If this data leaks, as happened with Air India and Domino’s recently, our privacy is more prone to further jeopardy.

Cybersecurity is weak and the challenges of cyber-attacks, identity theft, phishing, malware, deep fake, cloning, data militancy are just drops in an ocean of cybersecurity loopholes. Big data and metadata leakage are no less than massive oil spillage. If this data gets in the wrong hands and put to use for malicious reasons, it has the potential to shape or program how society ‘thinks’. The Cambridge Analytica scam is a classic example that will go down in history.

There must not be any discreet data collection and digital profiling for targeting ads or other reasons. We must have free will and freedom to make our own choice, instead of tech companies making our choices for us by subtle psychological brainwashing for capitalist gains.

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  1. Minal tomar

    Amazing writeup 🤍


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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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