Privacy

This women’s day, let’s consider how safe it is to let stalkers look up a woman’s name using her car registration number

stalker-following-woman-&-checking-registration-number

I recently came across an app that lets you enter just a car’s registration number and get the owners full name, area where the car was registered, year and model of the car and even the chassis number. I could not believe it till I tried entering my own vehicle number and saw how accurate the information was. Now imagine a pervert on the road wants to stalk a woman or someone they got into a tiff with. All they need to do is use this app to find their name and then look that up to find their social media profiles.

I initially thought maybe its a good idea to keep this a secret but guess what, this app “RTO Vehicle Information India” has 19 K ratings with 4.6 stars and is no.13 in the utilities category in the Indian app store!! And this is hardly the only one. There are dozens of others which offer the same service on both iOS and Android. And its not like the app makers are doing anything illegal. The description of the app I checked says “We show information available in public domain only“. They also go on to say “We do not plan to incorporate phone number or address of users for safety and security purposes“, but how difficult is it to find that information when you can easily look up that person on various social media platforms or LinkedIn to find out where they work?

App-store-screenshots-of-RTO-Vehicle-Info-app
Source: App store screenshots of ‘RTO Vehicle Information India”

The real question is, why is this information out in the public domain in the first place? Isn’t this a flagrant violation of our fundamental right to privacy as declared by the Supreme Court? Some quick research on this threw up this 2012 article by Newsminute about the government making car registration information available by SMS and then rolling it back after criticism. It definitely doesn’t look like anything has been rolled back though. If anything, it’s been ramped up and we are all at risk when out on the road.

Please reach out to any public representatives who can help remedy this, and join this change. org petition: http://chn.ge/2tqlZbf

In the meantime, please be doubly sure that your social media profiles are locked down well enough not to expose you further once someone has your name, and do a quick Google search on your name to see what other information is out there.

Let’s not just wish everyone happy women’s day today. Let’s raise our voice on something that will actually help keep them safer on the road.

Edit:

  1. I am not saying this is a problem only for women. Male drivers privacy is equally compromised but I called out women’s safety because the fact is women get stalked more than men, although it might be used to stalk a man as well
  2. Many have said that your name is not private information. I disagree and think that whether any piece of information is confidential or not depends on the context. If you are joining an anonymous support group, or you are an anonymous donor, revealing your name is a violation of your privacy.
  3. I don’t deny there are legitimate uses of having this data. But the potential for misuse is very high and there is absolutely no restriction. For example I could look up my friend’s name but I did not have to create an account or even give my own name or number. If someone can easily stalk you with this, at the very least their identity should be verified and logged so that there is some accountability
Cover image credit: Patrik Nygen & Biswarup Ganguly

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