Thiruvananthapuram: The recent spotlight on the data breaches at Facebook, not to forget the instances of #DeleteFacebook campaign have already raised concerns on data breaches involving smartphones and the apps that our devices contain.
But there is more than mere data breaches that apps and our beloved smartphones are prone to. Besides texting and communicating with near and dear ones, a typical pattern of using such apps has added to concerns for health agencies such as the Kerala State Aids Control Society.
This agency from Kerala in a study found out that apps such as Whatsapp are being used in soliciting customers for prostitution.
Kerala's prostitution industry has turned hi-tech and more business transactions get carried via smartphones and apps, claims this study. The Kerala State Aids Control Society (KSACS) along with NGOs claims that apps like Whatsapp are beneficial in soliciting businesses and also coordinating meeting places.
Although the KSACS findings are yet to be made publicly available on its portal, the revelation is similar to a 2017 study conducted by the International Justice Mission (IJM). The IJM scouted 1400 establishments, 1162 brothels, 218 ladies bars, 19 silent bars, 43 private locations, hotels and rented accomodations.
10082 sex workers were encountered by researchers in the IJM study. The study concluded that minors were only a small part (11.7%) of the flesh trade. The IJM report indicated that private establishments advertised on Whatsapp and other social media to source patrons in the flesh trade.
Speaking with IANS, KSACS Project Director R Ramesh said the numbers in the study were of those who were registered with the agency. He said, "We constantly engage in working among these people and give them regular medical check up for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases,"
He further said majority of the women in this profession hail from poor families, but there was also a second and third category of people who engaged in it.
"The second category includes those who are part-time professionals and who engage in prostitution when they need money. The third category involves individuals who want to lead a luxurious lifestyle and the advent of technology has become a huge advantage for all," he added.
The agency fears that the arrival of a new mode of soliciting customers, could perhaps increase the risks of sexually transmitted diseases, more importantly HIV in God's Own Country. The agency claims 15,802 women and 11,707 male prostitutes in the state. Although this number is only an estimation, the agency believes there is a greater risk of HIV infections spreading owing to the usage of apps.
The efforts of the agency has resulted in HIV related infections coming down to 0.7% from 1.7% in the last 15 years as on 2017, but app related challenges could open newer challenges.
A story that appeared in the New Indian Express, quotes Ramesh explaining one such challenge. He explained that the biggest challenge of working with sex workers in the state was keeping a track of sex workers. The agency claimed that it was hard spotting sex workers in public places since most of them operated seeking customers via such apps.
Most apps have been rolling out payment features. In fact Whatsapp is also discreetly rolling out a version of its Whatsapp Payments feature. Various banks too have claimed of rolling out interfaces to support Whatsapp and Facebook led payments and banking.
For the average Joe buying groceries, a Whatsapp, Facebook or Instagram led payments app may not sound too tempting, but for those engaging in the business of prostitution such apps definitely have a lot to offer- receiving payments from their patrons/customers.
Although such stories can lead one to conclude the perils of how apps like Whatsapp have wrecked havoc on societal fabric. On the contrary there is also a benefit for using such apps. Besides issues centered around privacy and data-breaches, such apps have also ushered in a new mode of constant communication, a need for a specific section of users.
For instance, Whatsapp was used as a tool by the World Health Organisation's teams in war-torn Syria. WHO's teams of doctors and medical care staff vaccinated nearly 200,000 children by using two way radio systems and Whatsapp to communicate with people.