Privacy at the Margins| The Poverty of Privacy: Understanding Privacy Trade-Offs From Identity Infrastructure Users in India

Janaki Srinivasan, Savita Bailur, Emrys Schoemaker, Sarita Seshagiri


What trade-offs in privacy do low-income people make in dealing with state identity systems, and on what basis? We examine perspectives on Aadhaar, a national identification system for Indian residents that assigns a 12-digit number based on biometric identifiers. We draw on qualitative interviews with low-income respondents (N = 150) in six sites spanning three Indian states. In their encounters with state identity systems, respondents weigh their privacy concerns against their need to be seen by the state and in light of their previous interactions with the state. They negotiate their privacy practices by gauging what they are offering their data in exchange for and whether the rationale for data collection resonates with them. In parallel, they use their previous interactions with the state to make decisions about when to be visible to the state and when they value their privacy more and in evaluating whether information collectors and their tools are credible. Finally, we find preliminary indications that respondents harbor unique privacy concerns around the networked nature of identity systems such as Aadhaar.


networked privacy, India, biometrics, identity systems

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