Monday, January 14, 2013

Is the Passport Seva Kendra leaking your data?

Late in November 2012, I applied for a new passport booklet. It finally arrived last Wednesday. Just 10 days past the 30-day period indicated on the Passport Seva Kendra website. 

Not that terrible; all things considered. In fact, it's a shade better than what used to happen before Tata Consultancy Services took over logistical operations at India's passport offices. 

But is TCS using its access to the Passport Seva Kendra's databanks to sell important, personal data to third parties? Here's my experience. You decide. 

At 13:38 this afternoon, I got a call from "011-66662928". The lady on the other end identified herself as a salesperson for Tata Insurance. Here's how the conversation went. 

Lady: Did you recently apply for a passport?
Me: Yes. I received it last week. What's this about?
Lady: You filled a form where you ticked that you wanted a 'financial help review'.
Me: No. I don't remember filling anything like that.
Lady: Sir, we got this from the Passport Seva Kendra. We were wondering if you wanted travel insurance.
Me: Travel insurance? I never asked for that. You said you're calling from Tata Insurance? How did you get my number?
Lady: Yes sir, from Tata Insurance. We got your number from the form you filled at the Passport Seva Kendra.
Me: I'm telling you I didn't fill any such form and I don't want travel insurance. Thank you.

So, Tata Insurance (if the lady's claims are true) got my mobile number from a Passport Seva Kendra operated by Tata Consultancy Services. It calls me to sell travel insurance. It's a reasonable assumption: someone who renews their passport is likely to be travelling in the future. Why not sell them travel insurance? 

But does anyone else think it's totally wrong for TCS to be giving away personal data, especially since I did not authorise them to? My passport application docket has a lot of private, confidential data that should not be in anyone's hands but the right authorities. 

- Why is at least some of this being given (sold?) to third parties? 
- And why are these third parties calling me even though I'm on the 'National Do Not Call' registry?

Anyone care to answer this? Also, have any of you faced this? Do leave a comment. 

---- Update 1 ----
Vinay Kumar replied on twitter saying: The appointment token is designed to trick you.One can opt out from filling the TATA ad by tearing it off. It works
He added: AFAIK feedback part is different from the ad. I tore off the ad and submitted only the feedback. This was in Nov'12.

I received a similar note from Anil Kumar in that same thread saying: Guard at Exit will insist you fill the form, else passport application invalid; i smiled at him and left.

Also, do read the comment left by Balakrishna Kini here
I'm quite sure I did not tick any box saying 'contact me'. If, as has been said, there's a small tab at the bottom of the feedback form to 'opt out' of communication, then it's plain ambush marketing on unsuspecting customers. Still pretty underhanded, in my opinion.

---- Update 2 ----
TCS replied via Twitter to say they "will have this checked"


  1. Even worse for me.. The head inspector of the police station stole my no and email ID and started texting me.. Yes, I am a young lady and the inspector I'm guessing was a bachelor. But that was my passport application not a matrimony profile

  2. I think you had filled the form that they give while exiting the PSK. Last month i also had gone to Bangalore PSK to apply for passport. They gave me the form of Tata insurance... actually the form is the part of the token they give. It is like a advertisement and they ask you to fill it while exiting.

  3. This is no big deal. Quit blowing it out of proportion.

  4. Hi Anonymous, with the advantage of knowing who you are (since we connected) all I can say is, you know what to do...

    Bala, thanks for that note. I think the problem is they're disguising the ad with the feedback form and you have to 'opt out' of receiving communication. I'm reasonably sure I did not tick any box saying 'contact me' for ads.

    James, perhaps your threshold for privacy & data security is not as high as mine. If I didn't ask a company to contact me on my mobile, I expect them not to. And I certainly don't expect TCS to be sharing my data without me explicitly stating that I want it shared.

  5. It is a big thing and I am not sure why private information are not taken so seriously in India. Even by companies like Tata.
    I will suggest you to file a PIL.

  6. At the time of submitting the application form online, there is an option that is selected by default saying that the applicant agrees upon "sharing!" information. Not sure whether deselecting the option has any effect.

    Both Government of India & TCS are happy to supplement their income by selling personal information!

  7. And welcome to most educated people's nightmare where nothing of yours is personal or private.

    Most IT companies ask which political organisation one is affiliated with. Why ????

    Schools ask at admission ask what is the income of parents.

    Cross selling is the norm. Buy car insurance and you start getting calls for life insurance irrelevant of being on the DND and telling the car insurance that you don't want any sales calls.

    What are you going to do about it ?

  8. Ah and let's not forget the rating companies. Financial institutions can share your financial data with them, without intimating you, and on that basis other financial institutions can base their decisions. But if you need your own information, you have to pay for it !
    If it is truly such an open markent, let fin-Instt bear the risk; or implement 100 % transparency in fin-Instt transactions.

  9. Thank you for the comments. I do believe that personal data is simply not taken as seriously it should. That is the great tragedy of a connected but digitally illiterate population. The problem, of course, is hardly unique to India.

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