Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Video of the day

Deepika Padukone released the trailer of her upcoming film ‘Chhapaak’. Directed by Meghna Gulzar, the film tells the story of Laxmi Agarwal, who survived an acid attack. Padukone started to cry on stage while speaking about her role, saying, “[I]t will be the most special film of my career.” Watch her speak here. Plus: Watch the trailer.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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An alarming data privacy bill

The government plans to introduce a revised version of the Personal Data Protection (PDP) bill in Parliament this week. And privacy advocates are up in arms about a number of its provisions.

What’s this bill? Commonly referred to as the ‘privacy bill’, the PDP bill was first drafted by an independent judicial committee—whose contents were released back in 2018. However, the final draft was kept under wraps until Wednesday—when a revised version was circulated among members of Parliament. 

And why is it important? It will determine where your personal data is stored, and who has access to it. By personal data, we mean all that information we turn over to companies—be it credit card, ecommerce, insurance or social media—and government institutions like Aadhaar etc.  

Ok, tell me what’s wrong with this bill: Experts have pointed to three key revisions in the bill—some are more worrying than others. One concerns the storage of data. The second changes the government’s ability to access data. And the third governs the verification of personal data.

Where your data will be stored: Over the past year, the government has insisted that Indian citizens’ data must be stored in India. Credit card and other companies, however, argued that localising storage will make such sensitive data more insecure. The companies appear to have won at least part of the argument. As per the new bill, general personal data can be stored and processed abroad. But data that is considered ‘sensitive’ must be stored only in India—but it can be processed (i.e. analysed) abroad with due permissions. What constitutes ‘sensitive’ data? Financial information, medical records, sexual orientation, biometric and DNA data, caste and religious identifiers etc. 

Why does this matter? The storage debate is basically about who ‘owns’ this data—India or the companies. The government now requires only ‘critical’ data to be stored and processed in India—and it will decide what data is critical at any given time.

Who has access to your data: The original version of the bill allowed the government to access your personal information—but only for specific reasons. For example: national security, criminal investigations etc. It also insisted that these ‘exceptions’ be “necessary and proportionate”—and clearly laid out in a separate law. But in the new version, all such specific exemptions have been removed.


What does that mean? The government can now access and analyse your data without your consent as long as it is “satisfied that it is necessary or expedient” for purposes such as “preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence.” The bill also states that it can “exempt any agency of government from application of Act in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order.”

Also this: The government can ask any company that collects and processes your personal data to share it with the government—but in an anonymised form. So Facebook could turn over data on its users in, say, your city. The government would not, however, be able to link any of that information specifically to you. The aim is to help the government develop tech-driven policies and solutions.

Who needs to verify your data: The bill also requires social media companies to enable users to verify their accounts—which requires assigning a “demonstrable and visible mark of verification, which shall be visible to all users of the service.” Basically, a version of the blue tick on Twitter.

The bottomline: In its current form, the Personal Data Protection bill offers very little protection or privacy.


Learn more: Given the complexity of the subject, reporting on the bill is a bit muddled, and heavy on jargon. Indian Express has the most detailed explainer. Mint zeroes in on the government’s ability to access your data without your consent. Reuters offers more clarity on the government’s access to anonymised data. Times of India reports on concerns raised by privacy advocates. The Wire has embedded a pdf version of the bill if you want to check it out yourself.

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bracing yourself for a full-on shaadi season

Trump is impeached: Democratic leaders formally called for the US President’s removal from office. They claim that he has “ignored and injured the interests of the nation,” and have laid out two ‘articles of impeachment' that charge him with a) abusing his power to bully Ukraine into investigating the Bidens and b) obstructing Congress from investigating his actions—which it labeled “unprecedented, categorical and indiscriminate defiance.” (New York Times)

In more surprising Trump-related news: We seem to have finally solved the mystery of his bizarrely orange face. And a Swiss cosmetic company has now claimed credit for the unnatural hue—which it attributes to its Boosting Hydrating Concealer in orange.  (Vox)

US panel recommends action against Amit Shah: The US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) described the Citizenship Amendment Bill as “a dangerous turn in the wrong direction” and called for “sanctions against the Home Minister and other principal leadership.” Of course, it doesn’t matter what a US commission has to say. And no one is paying attention—including the White House—except the Indian government, which is all riled up at its comments. PS: The CAB is being tabled in the Rajya Sabha today. If you need a refresher, here’s our explainer.

Water is safe for birthing: In a water birth, the woman delivers the baby in a water-filled tub. A new study shows that these are no more risky than “land births,” and that women who give birth in water sustain fewer first and second-degree tears. (Scienmag)

Another victim of global warming: A new study warns that the last remaining glaciers in the tropical zone—the area between the Himalayas in the North, and the Andes in the South—will disappear within the next ten years. The first to go: the glaciers in Indonesia, which researchers call "the canaries in the coal mine." Other tropical glaciers on Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Quelccaya in Peru will soon follow suit. (

There’s a Tik Tok rival in town: The video-sharing app already has competition in India, and it’s called Firework. The Silicon Valley company is determined to push short-form videos beyond influencer culture, “general tomfoolery,” and “cringe comedy”—i.e. everything that makes Tik Tok popular. What Firework offers instead: 30-second original series with emphasis on high quality user-generated content. Their target audience: Commuters. (Quartz)

Say hello to Yes Bank’s strange suitor: Erwin Singh Braich is the mysterious tycoon who has placed a $1.2 billion bid to rescue a financially strapped Yes Bank. Braich claims that “he is Canada’s richest man with a story so fabulous that Netflix Inc. wants to tell it.” What Bloomberg News found: “The son of a lumber baron has a history including bankruptcy, lawsuits and soured business deals. He has no headquarters, no banker to manage his money, and is currently living in a three-star motel in the Canadian prairies.” Oh, and Yes Bank is seriously considering his offer.

Pollution is the biggest worry for Dilli-walas: According to a new survey, 45% cite pollution as the city’s biggest problem—followed by unemployment (12%), water issues (7%) and poor sanitation (5%). And 88% described pollution as an ‘extremely serious’ issue. But who or what do they blame? The answer: stubble burning (37%); vehicles (30%); and the Delhi government (27%). Nearly one in four Delhiites has thought about leaving the city. (Indian Express)

Two data graphs to shame our netas: The BJP has 21 MPs and MLAs who have been charged of crimes against women—putting it at the top of an unholy chart of offenders, followed by Congress, which has 16. More shockingly: there has been a 231% jump in the number of such Lok Sabha candidates between 2009 and 2019, Read the detailed ADR report. Or check out the key data graphs here.

The man who inspired the viral Ice Bucket Challenge: has passed away. Pete Frates kicked off the viral movement in 2014 to help find a cure for his disease: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS. The challenge has raised more than $220 million for ASL research. But there is still no known cure for this degenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. (CNN)


Oh look, it’s a langur in a Greek fresco! A scientist noticed something odd in a 3,500-year-old fresco of frolicking monkeys in Greece. The tails of the monkeys are pointing upwards—indicating they are langurs, and most likely native to what is now Pakistan. Why this matters: it indicates that trade between the East and West along the Silk Road route occurred 1,500 years earlier than previously known. Also: the fresco is very purty! (Daily Mail)


A very British story of bigotry: Ambassador Ayesha Aleem offers an eye-opening first-person account of her encounters with racism in a country bracing for a bitter election. (Huffington Post)


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

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Everything we don't know about human desire

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A ‘Made in Heaven’ tech boom

More than 10 million weddings take place in India each year. The estimated market value of the Indian wedding industry is $50 billion, and it's growing at a rate of 15-20% year-on-year. No wonder, we now have a mini-boom of shaadi tech thanks to startups like Shaadi Squad which organised Virat and Anushka's big day.

Read: How Indian Couples Today Are Tying The Knot With Wedding Tech Startups | Inc42

Sex, Love etc 2

The mystery of female infidelity

More women are straying outside their marriage than ever—or at least, more are now open and unapologetic about it. But why? Are they angry? Bored? Trapped and unhappy? The answer: none of the above.

Read: Why So Many Women Cheat on Their Husbands | The Cut

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