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The devils of social networking

With power comes great responsibility, and perhaps greater problems. India drives the social networking website market, but it is most vulnerable to cyber crimes too.

business Updated: May 11, 2012 02:32 IST
Faizan Haider
Faizan Haider
Hindustan Times

With power comes great responsibility, and perhaps greater problems. India drives the social networking website market, but it is most vulnerable to cyber crimes too. The American Express Global Customer Service Barometer, 2012, reveals there are over 100 million internet users in India, of which 87 per cent log on to social networking websites at least once a week.

Pooja, a 23-year-old student, is one of the many victims of crimes that originate from social networking. “One of my friends knew my password. We had a falling out and the next day, he posted abusive comments on my pictures. It was very embarrassing, especially since my parents saw the comments. Since then, I have stopped logging on to these websites,” she said.

Police, however, said the security of users lies in their very hands for they make themselves vulnerable to cyber crime time they log on to any social networking website. "The best way to save yourself

from digital crimes is by not using a computer,” remarked a senior police officer, on condition of anonymity. “If you cannot adopt these websites’ security measures, you shouldn’t log on to them,” he explained.

Internet users are vulnerable to several kinds of cyber crimes such as fake profiles, abusive mails, morphing of photographs and defamatory comments on social networking websites. “And it is always someone known to you who will try to defame you. So choose your friends carefully,” the officer added.

Priyanka, a 26-year-old media professional, made this crucial mistake. The result: A series of morphed pictures of her — pulled out from a social networking website and then pasted on poster girls by a ‘friend’ — were loaded on to a CD. Multiple copies of these CDs were then dispatched to her workplace with the intention of defaming her. “I deactivated my social networking account immediately. I still live in a constant fear of that man hacking my email account or causing some other damage, though I have blocked him,” she says.

And the number of such cyber crimes has been piling up. As per police records, incidents of defamation, impersonation, fake profiles, credit card frauds, online frauds, harassment and abusive mails have increased by almost 30-50 per cent over the years. “The number of complaints has risen because we carried out an intensive awareness programme,” the police officer said.

In 2010, the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) had received 1,477 complaints of cyber crimes which jumped to 1,946 in 2011. The number of complaints EOW received regarding defamation and fake profiles, email hacking and harassment emails in 2011 were 276, 345 and 132, respectively. In 2010, these were just 180, 282 and 113, respectively.

“In most complaints, victims were defamed through circulation of abusive emails. In others, a fake profile existed in their name on a social networking website. Investigating these cases takes time and only 25 per cent of the complaints could be turned into FIRs,” the officer added.

Experts say a majority of online users are victims of cyber crime but most avoid reporting it. “Majority are not aware of the need to protect confidential data on their personal computers. Victims either do not know where to report such crimes or hesitate in reporting them,” said Pawan Duggal, a cyber law expert.

But 28-year-old Neelu did not hesitate in reporting the crime. After many efforts, police finally took down her complaint but have taken no action. Two years ago, her social networking account had been hacked and her profile picture was replaced with her morphed photograph. "It caused me a lot of mental anguish," she said.

Security settings, say experts, hold the key. “Do not let your account content be visible to all. Select friends with whom you are comfortable and who are trustworthy. Your profile belongs to you. Don’t let everyone access your personal details,” Duggal added.

(Names of all the victims have been changed to protect their identities)

Husband posted obscene comments on her pictures

New Delhi: A year ago, like any other day, 28-year-old Shradha (name changed) logged on to her favourite social networking website. But the comment trail on her pictures gave her the

shock of her life. Her husband had posted obscene comments on those pictures.

She and her husband were leading separate lives after a failed marriage. Shradha says he routinely used to torture her when they stayed together. But she had never thought that her husband would stoop so low to humiliate her at such a public forum.

Shradha later lodged an FIR against her husband for posting inappropriate comments on her photographs. Her husband used to work as a gym instructor with a five-star hotel and was later sacked. She gave the police her husband’s email id and the cops got the website to block the pages.

Shradha alleges that her husband had started harassing her soon after their marriage thr years ago. "Facing continuous torture, I finally filed a complaint at the Crime Against Women (CAW) cell of the Delhi

Police but they hardly did anything. In March last year, he posted abusive comments on my pictures on Orkut,” she said.

“Initially, the police refused to lodge an FIR. But I met senior officers and on their direction, my complaint was registered. However, no action has been taken in this regard so far. This incident was more horrible than dowry harassment,” the homemaker added.

Shradha says her husband used to beat her often but wonders how could someone publicly humiliate his own wife. “I have gone through a lot of physical and mental harassment. It was obvious he was not happy with the dowry. He wanted a car. I had no option but to approach CAW,” she said. htc

They made public his chats, ruined his relationship

New Delhi: A seemingly innocuous step, and Arjun Rana’s (name changed) four-year-old relationship was wrecked.

Around two years ago, an unsuspecting Rana had lent his laptop to his classmates for a college assignment. And the next thing he knew was someone had been using his email account to send out details of his chats with his then girlfriend.

“I did not realise that someone had accessed my chat history till I got calls from friends saying they had got a

few nasty messages from my email account. I still don’t know who did this, but it must have been one of my classmates,” said Rana, who is employed with a PR firm. The incident had led to his break-up.

The details of the chats were sent to all of Rana’s contacts and posted on social networking website Facebook.

The 26-year-old is still wary while using his email account. “It was embarrassing for me. It was even more embarrassing for my girlfriend. People who had read our chats would call her names,” added Rana.

Not only did he lose his girlfriend of four years after the incident, but he also found his friends making fun of him. “When you are young, you sometimes like pulling the leg of a friend. Though a few sympathise with you, you become a topic of gossip for others,” Rana said.

Now, he is extremely cautious while using the Internet. Rana does not use a public computer anymore and does not share his laptop with anyone. “I have become paranoid now. I change my password every week,” he adds.

Though he did not file any complaint with police, officers handling cyber crime say nobody should be trusted when it comes to the Internet.

“I have learned it the hard way. Your password should remain with only you,” Rana says. htc

First Published: May 11, 2012 00:11 IST