IGF 2022 Lightning Talk #64 Democratizing the discourse on data rights: experience sharing from rural India

Thursday, 1st December, 2022 (12:15 UTC) - Thursday, 1st December, 2022 (12:45 UTC)
Speaker's Corner

Digital Empowerment Foundation
Vineetha Venugopal & Jenny Sulfath : Researchers, Digital Empowerment Foundation Onsite moderator: Osama Manzar, Founder, Digital Empowerment Foundation Rapporteur: Ananthu RA


Vineetha Venugopal & Jenny Sulfath : Researchers, Digital Empowerment Foundation Onsite moderator: Osama Manzar, Founder, Digital Empowerment Foundation Rapporteur: Ananthu RA

Onsite Moderator

Osama Manzar

Online Moderator

Jenny Sulfath


Ananthu RA


16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Targets: The talk aligns most with SDG 16, that intends to make strong, sustainable, accountable institutions. Agencies that collect and process data must be transparent and accountable to the communities on what their data is used for and how it would have impacts.



Duration (minutes)

While there is much policy discourse around data and data rights, attempts to democratize this discourse are far and few between. The new digital entrants from marginalized social locations often lack awareness about the ways in which the data they share online is collected and used by third parties including private platforms, businesses and government agencies. It is vital that this information is communicated to them in a way that is contextualized, easy to understand and apply in real life. It is in this context that DEF decided to launch an awareness program called ‘data rights for communities’. The objectives of the program are as follows: 1. Develop an understanding of data, ways in which data is collected and its usage so that people are able to make informed decisions. 2. Generate awareness about the rights associated with data We tried to generate awareness through familiar situations. The training sessions are envisaged in informal conversation format. Through this lightning talk, we aim to share our insights and learnings from this program.

Being a lightning talk, most of the conversation could be held via online conferencing in case all our organizers couldn't attend. One onsite moderator would take questions and answer them, and the rest of the team would do the same via zoom/other video conferencing tools

Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions


Democratising the discourse on data rights: experience sharing from rural India

Moderator: Jenny Sulfath

Speakers: Vineetha Venugopal, Osama Manzar

Rapporteur: Ananthu R A

Women Attendees Online : 2


The Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) has been working on bridging the digital divide in under-served and unreached regions and communities.While our initial focus was on connecting the unconnected regions in India through wireless hotspots and innovative and low-cost internet infrastructure, over time, we have been focusing on bridging the digital gap in India not just in unconnected areas but in under-connected regions that are not able to meaningfully use internet and internet services. Another area of intervention is on the problems emerging out of hyperconnectivity in newly digitized communities where misinformation and disinformation are prevalent social issues.

In the Lightning session, we talked about how DEF is approaching the issue of data rights for rural communities and the context that led to the programs addressing these issues.

There have been several cases where rampant dataification and digital push without looking at the basic infrastructure of access has led to exclusions and fatalities. Recent examples include the pregnant woman who died after she did not receive healthcare because of lack of Aadhaar (Unique ID Card), or the people who didnt get rations because of biometric reader errors, and workers not getting paid because of connectivity error in their attendance apps. This is one aspect of Data Rights. The other is your data being stolen or leaked, or these data being used in financial frauds or for surveillance. Policies that enforce dataification do not look at this basic issue of access.

The issues of digitisation on a fundamentally unequal society is not isolated. The session played a short clip about the issues faced by the rural workers enrolled under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme to illustrate this.

Digitisation has to be contextually informed from the ground, and there must be sufficient consultation and interaction with all the stakeholders- the policymakers, developers and impacted people in this process. ‘Dataification’ should be done with human touch rarther than consumerist touch. 

The DEF team briefly described their methodology of engaging with the rural communities to generate awareness on data rights. The program developed by DEF was fluid and conversational, and engaged the rural community in small groups using folk art, music, puppet shows, and other contextualised examples. The issues faced by communities because of Aadhaar locally, or how the insecure availability of data including phone numbers and other information has contributed to the OTP frauds. 

After training around 300 women in hybrid sessions, where 85% participants were women, the DEF team’s insights can briefly be summarised thus:

  • Cyber fraud is very common.
  • There is a reported tendency to buy things after repeated advertisements
  • Interestingly, there is a general good awareness of blocking, disabling comments & deleting browsing history
  • It was confirmed that Whatsapp forwards are often a source of news in rural areas
  • There is a clearly visible digital marginalization of the elderly population.
  • Faulty fingerprint recognition in Aadhaar linked welfare schemes has resulted in service denials.
  • This lack of accuracy, or faults in official data is also a cause of service denial
  • Linguistic barriers pose a threat to data privacy.
  • Reaffirms the exisence of social control over women’s access and use of digital tools- the basic factor in the gendered digital divide.
  • There are people that gain exploitation of trust or fear of officials.
  • There have been several cases of data leakage from official sources and of disregarding consent and privacy by NGOs, and other institutions and entities.



  • Designs keeping in mind the elderly , textually illiterate and digitally illiterate
  • Opening cyber police branches in rural areas
  • Making tech more local by incorporating local languages
  • Sensitization to NGOs, media and officials regarding consent & privacy
  • State to take more accountability for abiding by the fundamental data principles

To ensure data rights for all communities, the presented challenges must be effectively tackled, and meaningful connectivity and making tech local are some place to start. For tackling the other issues such as OTP frauds, there needs to be more languages the OTPs are available in, as well as an increased awareness of the potential harms in these languages. Such targeted lessons should also be made available to the elderly. Opening of centres that are specialised in handling such issues, like rural cyber police centers can also help these communities.