Virtual world existence: WhatsApp & mobile usage study results

Varun Kapoor
The world is becoming more and more “connected” as the time is going by. Today the citizens in general reside in two worlds. The actual or the real world and alongside that in the virtual world. This virtual world is the one which is not tangible and physically present in and around the users. Thus it becomes a sort of imaginary world and the actions of citizens while existing in this world also mirror this sentiment – “Anything imaginary is not to be feared….after all it does not exist in reality….then why fear something that is non-existent”! But this is a crucial and critical mistake that most citizens are making, taking their existence in the cyber space so lightly.
They do not know or try to understand the law of the land that governs cyber crime in the country. A very small proportion of all users of cyber space are aware about the provisions of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000. As a result they are exposed to making mistakes which may be in violation of the law of the land and end up becoming offenders under it. In addition most citizens don’t take any overt security measures to keep themselves, their personal information; their private data; their reputation and their property safe – while undertaking activities in the virtual world. Thus they are highly vulnerable to all types and ever increasing cases of cyber crime. Today, these two factors are of critical importance and need to be addressed on a priority if the citizens have to be insulated and secured against the cyber crime menace.
Today India has over 100 Crore handsets in use and the connection per citizens is almost 80%. It is estimated that the total number of mobile phone users in India, will rise to a stupendous 73 Crores by the year 2019. By the end of 2017, India will have 31.4 Crore mobile internet users. Today WhatsApp is used by over 100 Crore people all over the globe. It is thus clear from the above statistics that the use of mobile phones is widespread and is the gadget of choice of all Indians and the App of choice is definitely WhatsApp. Another figure claims that WhatsApp is the social messenger service of choice of 98%Indians who use the internet.
Seeing all this it was evident that the usage patterns of Indian citizens be minutely studied to clearly understand their choices as well as their vulnerabilities in these interconnected fields – mobile phones & WhatsApp. A scientific study was thus conducted by the author supported by some technical and psychological experts. A detailed questionnaire was designed and administered on High School (class Xth – XIIth) students and College students of Indore city. The results were collected, collated and analyzed. The results were an eye opener on the prevailing situation regarding people’s awareness and preparedness to deal with cyber crimes.
The major findings of the study, which was first of its kind undertaken by any security agency in India were as follows:
•Overwhelming number of school and college students posses smart phones. This number is almost ¾ th of all students who were studied. It clearly demonstrates the huge amount of time that the students are spending in the virtual world, as smart phone is the devices which connects an individual to the virtual world with greatest ease, speed and convenience.
•More than half of all college students and almost half of all school students possess 2 SIM cards, thus two separate connections. This is a significant finding once again as it demostrates the increasing interest that the students have in the different aspects of the virtual world. This is because the two connections are being definitely being used for two different activities in the cyber space. Thus it proves that the students are todaydoing a host of different things in this space – ranging from communication; information; commercial activity; social networking to entertainment pursuits.
•Usage of number of Apps is also on the rise, with a majority of students having 5+ Apps on their mobile devices. This increasing usage of Apps also indicates towrds the need for students to be secure while using these Apps and to fully understand the security features and procedures before starting use. This is however woefully lacking amongst all students and needs to be aggressively promoted.
•WhatsApp is the latest and most widely used socialmessanger service by the students of all ages and categories. 64% school and 80% college students use it today. The timing of this use is also stupendous – 22% school & 25% college students use it for more than 4 hours a day. This is almost 1/3 rd of the productive time available in a day to the students. If they are spending so much time on this activity they have to be using it in a safe and secure manner. This is a fact that is again missin – ask any student what security measure he/she takes while using WhatsApp and the answere more often than not is – NONE. This is and must be a great cause of worry. In a world where a student is spending so much time and energy and investing nothing on safety – a disaster in the making is being prepared.
•School students (72%) and college students (54%) are Group Admins of 2 or more groups. This is again is an activity which cannot be undertaken recklessly, because any wrong activity by any group member can be pinned on the Group Admin too and it is being done by some city and state police forces. The situation is further excaberated further when 30% school and 43% collge students admit that they do not know all the members of the group in which they are members. This adds to the danger for all sorts of crimes to occur and online predators to have a field day.
•Prank or Hoax posts on WhatsApp in another big challenge. Almost half of all school and college students admit to forwarding such posts without thinking or finding out the veracity of such posts. This ends up causing great distress to other citizens and also ends up in promoting crime and criminal activity in the virtual space.
•Obscenity on WhatsApp provides the last big revelation in this study. 20% school and 29% college students admit to either viewing or posting obsene material on WhatsApp. This is alarming because if some student is posting and transmitting obscene material (which may be photos, videos or even text) then he is commiting a crime under section 67 and 67A of the IT Act. Further if he is viewing (in addition to posting or transmitting) obscene material concerning a child (a person below 18 years of age) then he/she is commiting a crime under section 67B of the said act. Are we bringing up our children to commit crime in the cyber space with allowing unregulated and unsupervised use of this resource?
The writer is IPS-ADG Narcotics & PRTS Indore (MP)

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