Locking up personal data

Locking up personal data

The Octopus scandal has made students rethink giving away their details

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Everyone in Hong Kong has at least one Octopus card.
Everyone in Hong Kong has at least one Octopus card.
Photo: Phoebe Ho
Many Hongkongers were outraged when they found out that Octopus Holdings had sold the personal information of 1.97 million customers who joined the pay card's reward scheme.

The data, which was sold for a total of HK$44 million, included telephone numbers, mailing addresses and Identity Card numbers. The Octopus Card's board says it will donate the revenue to the Community Chest.

Although Octopus Holdings now pledges to delete all non-essential personal data and stop providing information to others, Octopus cards are still used by a large number of people, including students, in their daily lives. Some have no choice but to register their personal information with the company because the cards also double as access cards to homes and registration cards at schools.

Young Post talked to some students about how the incident has made them rethink the issue of privacy.

'[Octopus] should respect people's privacy. We gave them that information for the Octopus card, not for any other reason,' says 18-year-old Samantha Ho, a student at Renaissance College. 'They shouldn't be allowed to make a profit by giving out personal details.' Samantha has held a personalised Octopus card for years.

Angela Lu, 19, also holds a personalised Octopus card and is a member of the rewards scheme. She uses the card for everything she can - her housing estate has even replaced the resident's card with Octopus.

Although Angela objects to the breach of privacy and to the use of her information to make money, she thinks not much that can be done, especially when the data has already been sold. 'I wouldn't want to go around carrying change for buses,' she says. But in the future she hopes to have a choice about the use of her personal information. 'Perhaps having a checkbox that says: Do you want information about these certain things? Are you interested in these types of offers?'

Despite the public's reaction, the news about Octopus came as no surprise to Angela. 'We would be naive to expect privacy in this day and age,' she says. 'We live in a time when a lot of our information is out there for people to get.

'People join Facebook without reading the privacy policy. They don't realise things they put up - photos, notes - don't belong to us. They're Facebook's property.'

Both Angela and Samantha are well aware of their privacy settings on networking sites and they try to keep their contact information available only to friends.

Samantha reads off her Facebook settings: 'For friends: name, age, gender, school, e-mail. For other people - nothing.'

They both say from now on, they will give basic details such as name and age to join discount programmes but nothing more. 'I don't think it's necessary for them to have my HKID number, like in Wellcome and ParknShop. Why do they need to know that? They don't have a right to ask for that,' Angela says. The uproar serves as a wake-up call for many people regarding their privacy, as Angela sums it up: 'I guess I should be more careful about what I apply for.'

Rachel, Phoebe and Yuki are Young Post interns

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