Archives for September 2021

September 29, 2021 - Comments Off on Evaluating Applications Developed by the Pakistani Government

Evaluating Applications Developed by the Pakistani Government

Faizan Ul Haq is currently a Senior at LUMS majoring in History. His interests include tech, philosophy, and social justice

A non-exhaustive database of mobile phone applications developed by the Pakistani government has been compiled by Faizan and can be accessed here.

It has been widely noted that Pakistan’s potential for IT development has grown vastly in the last decade or so. According to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s Annual Report for 2019-2020, in the period from 2016 to 2020, Mobile phone data usage in Pakistan has increased from 614 petabytes to 4,498 – an increase of over 700% in just half a decade. In the same time period, the distribution of broadband services has doubled. While numerous reasons can be speculated for leading this change (from the availability of cheaper smartphones from Chinese providers like Q-Mobile and Huawei, to the increasing importance of IT in business development, and the proliferation of mobile internet), it is obvious either way that the digital world in Pakistan now presents a new avenue that can be harnessed for better governance and delivering services.

It makes sense, then, that in late 2019, Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated the “Digital Pakistan” initiative. In its policy objectives, what stands out is the emphasis towards using digital applications (henceforth referred to as apps) for “e-governance” and in “key socio-economic sectors”. While there have been a few apps released previously to help with the aforementioned, the current government is seems intent on maximizing this newfound potential.

Over a 100 different apps (as of the summer 2021) have been released on the Google Playstore for Android phones and the Apple store for iOS device by both the government, at the provincial, federal and, at times, the district level. Primarily developed by different provincial IT boards, they cover a wide range of functions including education, the regulation of pre-existing government bodies, agriculture, and online ticketing and booking. Some apps are meant only for citizens of a particular locale (such as the City Islamabad app), while others are targeted to people of a specific profession (the Lahore and Sindh High Court apps are targeted towards the legal community). A few apps have also been released to help deal with health and safety emergencies, such as the Baytee app meant to increase women’s safety and a number of apps aimed at helping track and register COVID cases in Pakistan.

However, just publishing apps does not immediately mean that those apps have helped fix the underlying issues, or that they have been effective in their stated objectives. Quite a few of these apps have dubious efficacy, and some appear to not work at all. There are a few clear trends as to which apps have worked and which have not.

A number of apps profess a wide range of features. The “City Islamabad” app promises a lot. With the goal of “bridge(ing) the gap between citizens and government” by removing the need to go to government offices to access public services and departments, the app is supposed to provide quick access to numerous forms and payment services that would otherwise would have only been available therein. In practice, the Playstore review page is full of complaints that not all of the forms actually work. People have pointed out that tokens generated aren’t always registered by relevant financial departments. Certain forms load indefinitely – either they have not been programmed in properly, or the forms just are not available on the app. At the same time though, certain key features of the app still work and function effectively. The part of the app that provides information on Islamabad’s major landmarks and public facilities loads instantly and provides accurate information, while a portion of the userbase reports successful payment of tax related tokens and response upon submitting complaints. It appears that while a wide number of features have been programmed in, not all of them are perfectly useable.

A similar issue exists with what is arguably the government’s flagship application, the Pakistan Citizen Portal. Most of the reviews posted in September and August 2021 are entirely negative and allude largely to the same issue: a large number of the complaints registered on the app do not actually appear to lead to anything concrete and are instead marked “resolved” without any appropriate action being taken. While this is likely not representative of all users who have used the app, it does imply a degree of miscoordination between the app’s complaint registration mechanism and the departments that are meant to cater to it. If it’s true that complaints being marked as resolved does not actually mean any action has been taken, the widely quoted  statistics on the application’s website need to be taken with a grain of salt, it’s unlikely that each of the 3.1 million . It also speaks to the limitations inherent in e-governance and service delivery through apps – the issues that are already present in government bodies are likely to be reproduced through the functioning of the app. For example, if government bodies continue to treat cases of harassment lightly because of misogynistic attitudes, then the solution lies in a structural reform of said government bodies instead of opening more digital portals to file complaints through.

On the contrary, apps that are targeted towards a specific group of people appear to have had more success. There are two broad types of apps like this: some that have been created solely for the use of people in certain government departments, and others for everyone who works in a particular profession. Apps in the former category include the “Price Magistrate” app – a complaint management app meant specifically for district magistrates. This app has seen less use compared to other apps on this list, and its review section is full of users confused at the lack of a registration option. Of the few reviews that do appear to be from its intended user base, it seems that the app functions well.

An app’s functionality however is not just defined by how well certain features work. Overtime, as more bugs are reported, new devices are released and as operating systems go through several iterations, the publisher needs to provide constant support through updates to ensure their functionality. This is especially important in Pakistan, where Android users are likely to be using a very diverse set of devices given the numerous smartphone companies that exist. Additionally, smartphones in different price ranges have specific limitations – differences in screen resolution, RAM, processing power, and networking features mean that developers need to ensure that their apps can work despite these limitations. If this diversity isn’t catered for, sections of the Pakistani population that can only afford cheap smartphones with weaker specifications are likely to be left out. This means that the demographic which is least likely to be digitally literate will now also face bugs and compatibility issues that make it harder for them to use these applications. Updates are also important to address any security issues on the app, most application updates are issued to fix security bugs that are discovered later on and unanticipated backdoors.

The most prolific publisher of Government apps thus far has been the Punjab IT Board (compared to the other regional boards and other publishers, who barely have half as many apps as the Punjab board between them). On their Android publisher page alone, they have over 70 apps published. Yet, their support for these apps has been sporadic. More than half of these have not been updated even once in 2021. While at best, this might lead to most of these apps functioning albeit with bugs, quite a few of them have been rendered completely unusable as a result. A large number of users report that quite a few of these apps no longer have a working system for logging in users owing to an issue in generating and processing an OTP key. Other apps have been rendered completely unusable – the Agri-Smart app has been rendered completely unusable for certain Android users since their devices’ IMEI codes cannot be accessed. These issues have remained unaddressed for months on end.

It is unclear what the status of these apps is – if such glaring issues exist, has support for them been dropped completely? This seems to be the case, because other apps have had the publisher release frequent updates and engage with reviews that have pointed out issues. The fact that these apps remain available for download despite issues with their usability and a lack of developer support is troubling and speaks to a pattern where apps are launched without the necessary infrastructure to conduct follow-ups. This has caused a fair amount of confusion on app stores, as people continue to download said apps and leave negative reviews because of the clear lack of functionality.

If this is demonstrative of a communication gap between app developers and the intended user base, it is not the end of it. Certain apps certainly seem like they are designed to be used by a large user base, but evidently have not been used as such. The Click ECP app meant to facilitate voters during each election cycle and the Covid-19 Tracker app for Lahore both remain with only over a 1000+ downloads on the Playstore, when it is intuitive that their usage numbers should be far in the thousands. The “Equal Access App” meant to help disabled individuals also remains unused as its user base still is unengaged. At best, this is likely to result in certain apps being unused by their target demographic. At worst though, this can open the door to privacy violations.

Upon first use, a lot of apps require permission to access certain information and features of a phone. While this can vary from app to app, the general rule of thumb is that apps tend to only ask for those permissions that are core to an app’s functionality. Instagram, for example, will only ask for permission to use your camera when you open the in-app camera for the first time. However, even this can run awry – the Facebook app has long been under suspicion for secretly recording conversations for advertisement purposes. A number of apps supported by the Pakistan government, however, ask for a lot of permissions right at first launch. The Pehchaan app (currently unavailable on the Playstore as of September 2021) immediately requests permission to access a user’s location on launch. The “Forest Management Information System” (FMIS) app requests not only access to location services, but also to use the phone’s camera, to “modify and delete contents” of media files saved on device or USB storage, and of Wi-Fi connections. Why the app requires any of this is puzzling, especially since there is no use for any of these features immediately after an app has been launched. This runs afoul of the Principle of Data Minimization – the idea that data collectors should only request and use data that is needed for a specific purpose. Ideally, that purpose should be communicated clearly and a privacy policy should be attached in any scenario where private data is needed. Given that there is little communication from the developers of why these permissions are needed in the first place, it’s extremely troubling that many people in Pakistan could agree to these permissions just to launch an app without realizing the extent to which their privacy is invaded. While Google Play store does include a requirement that each app have a privacy policy attached, the Punjab IT Board’s Privacy Policy seems inadequate. The fact that it’s a generic policy means that it does not cater to the way each individual app may request, use, and store user data. By contrast, the City Islamabad App’s privacy policy and the Pakistan Citizens Portal’s privacy policy at least both specify the kind of data that may be collected. The Punjab IT Board’s privacy policy might already be violated by the FMIS collecting the “the minimum amount of information” required by the app. It is clear that the Punjab IT Board’s privacy policy – under which most of the apps released so far fall under – can be comprehensive and applied more rigorously.

Ultimately, the legitimacy of the Digital Pakistan initiative is worth questioning. Despite the massive growth in Pakistan’s access to these digital technologies and the potential therein, the system put in place to actualize it deserves further scrutiny. The reception of apps published by the government needs to move beyond a tokenistic celebration of each app’s release, to an evaluation of their actual benefit and long-term functioning.

September 17, 2021 - Comments Off on June, July and August 2021 Newsletter: DRF launches Digital 50.50 on Online Freedom of Assembly and Association

June, July and August 2021 Newsletter: DRF launches Digital 50.50 on Online Freedom of Assembly and Association

Online Campaigns and Initiatives:

DRF launches Digital 50.50 on Online Freedom of Assembly and Association

DRF launched it's second last edition of Digital 50.50 on August 23. It was focused on online freedom of assembly and association. As the world retreated inside the homes during the Coronavirus lockdown in 2020, protests were still held in both online spaces and the streets across the world. This reminded us of the importance of freedom of assembly and association as fundamental human rights and essential requirements for a functioning democracy. Journalists from both Urdu and English media shared their thoughts and words with us on some interesting aspects around the theme.

Link to magazine: https://www.canva.com/design/DAEmriH0G7Y/dfnTz_2bRDrVaqIvZq5MYA/view
Some ways you can secure your snapchat

DRF’s cyber harassment helpline has been seeing an increasing number of calls about people having their Snapchat accounts hacked. It's always a good time to remind ourselves of some of the basics of being safe online. We must always be mindful of our digital safety, given how frequent hacks are becoming.

Blame the criminal, not the victim


DRF shared a series of posts highlighting the importance of accountability in the current situation of physical, verbal and emotional attacks on women. The ongoing femicide in the country is quite distressing and in case of help individuals can reach out to the Cyber Harassment Helpline.

 

Digital 50.50 edition on ‘Loving Yourself in the Era of Trolling’

DRF launched the Digital 50.50 edition, "Loving Yourself In The Era Of Trolling" issue which is packed full of powerful writing from womxn all across Pakistan who have had to deal with immense trolling for simply existing online.

Read the full magazine here:

https://canva.com/design/DAEiAMh5ItM/1je9A13SXImSCLKtBmt-UA/view

Cyber Harassment Helpline’s campaign on key digital rights issues

 

DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline in June shared a series of posts around cyber bullying, harassment, digital safety and infomatic posts around how to file a complaint with the Federal Investigative Agency (FIA).

Policy Initiatives:

Policy Brief on #AttacksWontSilenceUs - One year on

Last year, amid rising digital attacks against women journalists, we issued a statement signed by more than 150 women journalists and activists.

To evaluate where we stand a year later, we've launched a new policy brief. Read here: https://bit.ly/2VJeNGt

DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline statistics for July 2021

In July, the Cyber Harassment Helpline received a total of 712 complaints, bringing a 54% increase in cases since June. Due to recent incidents and the spotlight on gender based violence, there has been a surge in awareness and resources being shared for the benefit of the public.

DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline statistics for June 2021

According to DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline statistics in the month of June 2021, there was  an almost 40% increase in complaints compared to the previous month of May, 2021. This rise brought to light how much further we all have to go to work towards an equal and safe internet for all.

DRF’s study on Young People and Privacy in Online Spaces


DRF launched a study in June titled, "Young People & Privacy". The study looks at how young Pakistani teens interact with digital spaces and understand the concept of privacy.

You can read the entire study here: https://bit.ly/3wTeC8B

 

#PrivacyHumSabKeLiye

 

The Network of Women Journalists statement condemning the petition registered in Gujranwala for treason cases against notable Pakistani journalists

DRF’s Network of Women Journalists on Digital Rights released a statement in June condemning the petition registered in Gujranwala for treason cases against notable Pakistani journalists Hamid Mir and Asma Shirazi.

DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline statistics for May 2021

For the month of May 2021, our Cyber Harassment Helpline received a total of 336 complaints.

Media Coverage:

Afghan people face an impossible choice over their digital footprint

Nighat Dad penned down the aftermath that the Afghan people face over their digital footprint.

Read the full piece here:

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2287409-afghan-people-face-an-impossible-choice-over-their-digital-footprint/

Nighat Dad on 92 News about the digital gender divide

Nighat Dad spoke on Subh Savary Pakistan of 92 News regarding the digital gender divide in the country.

Link to interview: https://twitter.com/SubhSavarayPk/status/1427556824010665988?s=20

Nighat Dad spoke on PTV on gender based violence

DRF’s Nighat Dad on 16th August spoke on PTV World on gender based violence and how there is a need for more accountability to make safe spaces for women and gendered minorities.

Link to interview:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=RuPijVRTu4Q&ab_channel=PTVWorld

Nighat Dad mentioned in Pride of Pakistan

This independence day Nighat Dad was mentioned in the Pride of Pakistan piece by the news.

Read the full piece here:

https://www.thenews.com.pk/magazine/you/867898-pride-of-pakistan

DRF’s Nighat Dad spoke to Dawn News about the domestic violence bill

DRF’s Nighat Dad spoke on Dawn News on the domestic violence bill and why there is a need for such a bill.

Link to interview:

https://twitter.com/newseyeofficial/status/1412436814439215112?s=20

Events and Sessions:

Understanding the Legal Landscape and Media Law - 27th August

DRF, in collaboration with Free Press Unlimited conducted the first of its series of training based on media law for journalists on the 27th of August. The training was attended by both Urdu and English media and many journalists expressed interest in joining refreshers of the same. It covered Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 and defamation laws among others.

WISE - Women in Struggle for Empowerment Seminar on The Role of Helplines in Countering Gender Based Violence - 25th August

The Cyber Harassment Helpline took part in a seminar organized by WISE on the role of helplines in working to assist in cases of gender based violence. The Helpline team shared the services it provides, how people can report instances of cyber crime to designated law enforcement authorities and what precautionary measures they can take in order to make themselves more secure online.

Workshop for Gender Minorities, Multan - 24th and 25th August:

DRF organized a two-day workshop for Gender minorities in Multan and the session aimed to create awareness among the Transgender community regarding the legal landscape that governs digital platforms, how to secure personal data and to avoid dangerous practices online that may put the Transgender community at risk.

A cyber-harassment awareness session was also conducted among the participants in which they were provided guidance on how to deal with harassment issues online during COVID-19. They were informed about how to reach out to DRF’s helpline if necessary. Helpline brochures and books were distributed amongst the participants along with hand sanitizers and face masks.

Online Training Session - Digital Safety in the Context of Advocacy movements and Human Rights - 19th August

An online training session regarding digital security within the context of advocacy movements and human rights was conducted.

This session focused on human rights defenders, specifically those belonging to minority communities, and how they can navigate through online spaces safely. Zanaya Chaudhry, a transgender activist, discussed the importance of managing online interactions, and the consequences minority communities faced when being drawn into controversial and potentially harmful online discourses. Zanaya shared a touching message with the participants regarding her personal experiences dealing with marginalization along with the challenges she had to face in order to achieve her objectives.

Nighat Dad spoke on panel ‘Why do we need a world where we control the internet?’

On 15th August Nighat Dad took part in a panel titled, ‘Why do we need a world where we control the internet?’ In the session she highlighted that the internet needs to be a safe space where nobody’s digital identity is threatened.

Nighat Dad  session on Violence Against Women: Challenges, Reform and the Pandemic

DRF’s Nighat Dad participated in the webinar ‘Violence Against Women: Challenges, Reform and the Pandemic’ on 19th July at SDPI. The session had renowned speakers discussing the ongoing femicide and the need for reform, especially during the pandemic.

DRF conducted an online training on gender sensitive reporting in mainstream and digital media

On 16th July, DRF hosted an online training with journalists from across the country on gender sensitive reporting. The training included components on understanding the changing terminology around gender, examples of biased news reports and guidelines on reporting in a gender sensitive manner. It also focused and how newsrooms can be sensitized towards being more gender-inclusive.

DRF conducted a training session on ensuring online safety for it's network of journalists on 12th July

The workshop was conducted via zoom considering the Covid situation. It was attended by journalists from digital and mainstream media across the country.

Nighat Dad on Unlock the Freedom with Tauseeq Haider

DRF’s Nighat Dad participated in Friedrich Naumann Foundation’s web-series ‘Unlock Freedom’ with Tauseeq Haider on 10th July. The session focused on internet freedom and digital rights in the country.

DRF on the launch of ‘Algorithmic Decision-Making in Pakistan: A challenge to Right to Equality and Non-Discrimination’

DRF’s Shmyla Khan took part in the Centre for Human Rights’ report launch on "Algorithmic Decision-Making in Pakistan: A Challenge to Right to Equality & Non-Discrimination” on 9th July 2021.

DRF conducted two sessions on Misinformation and Fake News in times of COVID19

DRF conducted sessions on the 6th and 8th of July with journalists and civil society on Misinformation and Fake News in times of COVID19. The session was conducted with the support of Friedrich Naumann Foundation.

Protecting your gatherings online: digitally-mediated assemblies and international law

DRF’s Nighat Dad participated in the session ‘Protecting your gatherings online: digitally-mediated assemblies and international law’ at RightsCon on July 7th. In the session our ED highlighted how policies made in the west have a ripple effect across the globe which is why policies should be thorough and fair.

DRF at #BalochistanYoungGirlsSummerCamp2021

DRF’s Nighat Dad held a session with #BalochistanYoungGirlsSummerCamp2021 on 29th June highlighting the importance of privacy online and also the importance of reclaiming online spaces and filing a complaint of online violence.

DRF conducted a webinar on the report launch of ‘Young People and Privacy in Digital Spaces’

DRF conducted a webinar on account of the report launch titled, ‘Young People and Privacy in Digital Spaces’ on 25th June. The team who worked on the report participated in the event and highlighted their findings in the report.

DRF conducted a session on 'bringing feminism to digital and mainstream media' on 18th June in Islamabad

The session was held in collaboration with Free Press Unlimited. It was attended by journalists from Urdu and English media. The topics covered included understanding the terminology of gender, reflecting on why the media is gender insensitive and guidelines to report in a gender sensitive manner.

DRF on Platform Futures session on Mobile Ecosystems: Opportunities and Challenges in the Asia-Pacific region

DRF participated in the session Mobile Ecosystems: Opportunities and Challenges in the Asia-Pacific region on 11th June. Nighat Dad of DRF took part in the discussion around platforms, access, markets, equity and Tiktok.

Listen to the full session here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=160iBtfVBfA

RightsCon session on Amplifying the human impact of internet shutdowns - why it matters

Nighat Dad spoke on RightsCon on the session ‘Amplifying the human impact of internet shutdowns- why it matters’ on 11th June. The session highlighted how internet shutdowns have an adverse impact on human lives and how the internet now is a fundamental human right.

DRF at Article 19’s session on how civil society carves out space for change in South & Southeast Asia

DRF participated in RightsCon from 7th till 11th June and took part in Article 19’s session on how civil society carves out space for change in South & Southeast Asia. The session focused on how solidarity is important in a shrinking media environment in South and Southeast Asia.

Gender and Disinformation: Towards a Gender-Based Approach for Researchers, Activists and Allies

DRF, along with EU Disinfo Lab, co-hosted a Community Lab at RightsCon  titled: Gender and disinformation: towards a gender-based approach for researchers, activists, and allies on 10th June. Through an interactive discussion led by six facilitators, they explored the intersections of gender and disinformation in relation to conflict, political participation, activism, gender-based violence.

Asia Pacific Social Hour

DRF participated at RightsCon social hour on 10th June which was a relaxed discussion around the digital rights movement and how art and humor can be used to promote digital rights.

Digital Security: Perspective from the Margins in Asia

DRF’s Shmyla Khan participated in the RightsCon session on ‘Digital Security: Perspective from the Margins in Asia’ on 9th June which was hosted by Body and Data. Shmyla Khan highlighted how security needs to be redefined and broadened in the digital space. There was also a discussion around how there should be a wider debate around mental health and well being.

Gendered disinformation: How should democracies respond to this threat?

DRF’s Shmyla Khan spoke in the session ‘gendered disinformation: How should democracies respond to this threat?’ by Heinrich Böll Stiftung on 9th June. The event focused on how to improve responses to gendered disinformation online and what platforms can do to help.

Details of the session: https://calendar.boell.de/en/gendered-disinformation

Voicing the shutdowns #LetTheNetWork

DRF’s Nighat Dad participated in the RightsCon session ‘Voicing the shutdowns’ on 8th June 2021. In the session a much needed debate around internet shutdowns across the globe and strategies around it took place.

Silencing the silenced? The impact of takedown legislation on civil liberties and victims of human rights abuses

DRF’s Executive Director participated in the RightsCon session ‘Silencing the silenced? The impact of takedown legislation on civil liberties and victims of human rights abuses on 8th June. The session highlighted the impact of takedown laws on civil liberties and human rights abuses across the globe.

COVID-19 Updates:

Cyber Harassment Helpline

DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline is open and available Monday to Sunday, from 9AM to 5PM. If you or someone you know is being harassed, bullied, or threatened online, please reach out to our Helpline at 0800-39393. You can even send us a DM on any of our social media platforms. You don't have to suffer in silence!

Ab Aur Nahin: In times of COVID19 domestic abuse is at an all time high where victims do not have anywhere to go. Ab Aur Nahin is a confidential legal and counselor support service specifically designed for victims of harassment and abuse. www.abaurnahin.pk

IWF Portal: DRF in collaboration with Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and the Global Fund to End Violence Against Children launched a portal to combat children’s online safety in Pakistan. The new portal allows internet users in Pakistan to anonymously report child sexual abuse material in three different languages- English, Urdu and Pashto. www.report.iwf.org.uk/pk

 

 

 

September 8, 2021 - Comments Off on Digital and Social Transformations in Pakistan During Covid-19

Digital and Social Transformations in Pakistan During Covid-19

Huma was born and bred in Lahore and is currently studying Public Policy at NYU Abu Dhabi with a focus on gender studies and public health.

Introduction and objectives

At the start of the pandemic, the Digital Rights Foundation conducted a survey on the impact of the Covid-19 crisis in Pakistan. This survey was open from March to June 2020. The purpose of the survey was to assess the impact of increased digitisation across the country in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and take stock of the digital and social transformations as part of this process. Some baseline indicators that the survey aimed to measure were:

  • The access and quality of access respondents had to digital technologies, including but not limited to tech devices such as smartphones, laptops and broadband connections,
  • Understanding of online security and privacy among respondents, including concerns surrounding increased surveillance and tracking mechanisms during the pandemic
  • Usage patterns for technological devices and social media, before and during the pandemic,

Context

In a joint statement in March 2020, the Digital Rights Foundation and BoloBhi expressed the digital gap during the COVID-19 pandemic would exacerbate inequalities and social cleavages. According to the statement, “Internet access in Pakistan stands at around 35 percent, with 78 million broadband and 76 million mobile internet (3/4G) connections.”

According to the Inclusive Internet Index 2021, Pakistan fell into the last quartile of index countries, ranking 90 out of a 100; particularly low on indicators pertaining to affordability, from ranking 76 in 2019, just before the pandemic.

Furthermore, the statement also explained that mobile internet (often the most affordable mode of access) has been shut down in parts of Balochistan and ex-FATA due to generalised security reasons. Even for areas that do have access, internet speed varies based on one’s location. For instance, internet speed in Gilgit-Baltistan is significantly slower than internet speed in urban centers of Punjab and Sindh.

Lastly, the statement also expressed concerns that “lower-income families either do not own digital devices or they are shared by the entire family unit; this means that families with more than one member working from home or students with online classes will be forced to make a choice.”

Methodological Limitations

In light of these, certain limitations of the survey results need to be addressed. Firstly, as the survey was disseminated primarily online, through social media channels, messaging apps, and email, basic access to internet and wifi became a prerequisite for respondents. This left out a large majority of the population that have little to no access to the internet.

Secondly, the dissemination methods also reflect a certain cross section of the population who regularly use and access social media channels of their own accord, since this was the primary means of distribution.

Lastly, this survey was conducted in English and therefore respondents were limited to those who could understand and communicate in English particularly.

Demographic Summary

The geographic distribution of the respondents reflects the pattern of accessibility and digital connectivity expressed by the statement. Inhabitants of Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Faisalabad formed the majority of the respondents, with 48, 27, 24 and 11 responses from each city respectively. In total, there were 4 responses from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 1 from Balochistan and none from Gilgit Baltistan.

We received a total of 128 responses to the survey. 71 (55%) respondents identified as females, 54 (41.9%) as males, with 1 gender non-binary individual and 2 respondents preferring not to disclose their gender.

53% of the respondents were between 25-34 years old, with those between 18 - 24 years and 35 - 44 years old forming the next biggest age brackets of respondents (20.3% and 19.5%, respectively). The large majority of our respondents were therefore employed on salary, self-employed or students. As shown below, while a diverse range of incomes were reported, most respondents fell in the middle to upper income brackets.


Survey Results: Major Takeaways

Digital Divide

93.8% of the respondents reported having access to a broadband connection. The eight respondents that do not have access to a broadband connection, all reported using 3G or 4G services.

Nearly all respondents reported having access to 3G and 4G services; however the amount that respondents spent on these services varied widely, as shown in the graph below:

Despite the reported distribution of access to broadband connections and 3G/4G services, a large majority of the respondents reported difficulties and obstacles in connectivity.

55.7% of the respondents reported experiencing weak or no broadband connection once a week. 15.6% of the respondents reported experiencing weak connections once a month, while the rest experienced these not very often or not at all.

54% of respondents felt that a lack of internet infrastructure in their area impacted their ability to participate in class or at work negatively during Covid-19; of these 45.2% of the respondents reported inconsistent connectivity as the main reason.

59.8% of the respondents felt that internet speed, in particular, negatively affected their experience. Of these, 34% felt that the internet speed had actually decreased in their area in the previous one month at the time of the survey.

Nearly 80% of the respondents agreed that the internet should be a public utility during a crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic. 9.4% of the participants argued that while it should be subsidized, it shouldn’t be free.

While by number, the majority (38.9%) of respondents reported that issues faced in accessibility, connectivity and quality did not negatively impact their access to job opportunities or education, it is important to note that nearly all respondents from outside of Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi and Faisalabad felt that it did. This points to a geographic disparity in access, connectivity and digitisation. Due to the over representation of respondents from more urbanised and digitalised areas of the country, the results of the survey are somewhat skewed.

A Dawn article published in June, 2021 describes the gendered disparities in access to digital technologies: there is a 38 percent gender gap in mobile phone ownership (the highest in South Asia) and a 49 percent gender gap in internet usage. Our study however did not reflect the same disparities, with respondents of all genders self-reporting similar access to technologies, ownership of gadgets, internet usage, and privacy too. This difference owes itself largely to the demographic, especially class, particularities of this study’s respondents.

Nearly 73% of the respondents started working from home completely or at least partially after the advent of the pandemic, the following transformations were also reported in terms of increasing technological devices and internet usage. While this points towards an increasing digitisation of Pakistan, as more and more online services are utilised for what would previously be performed through non-tech means, much of the spread of digital technology - especially those indicated here - are limited to urban areas. For example: Airlift Express, one of Pakistan’s online delivery startups, delivers its services in Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Peshawar. This certainly reflects the demand patterns across the country, but is also reflective of already present geographical cleavages in digitising basic services.


The options for the above two questions were:
Purchase groceries
Pay utility bills
Do banking transactions
Read books
Connect with family and friends
Work
Attend classes

The variance between the increasing usage of online services compared to the disparity in the provision of these services is reflected tremendously in the increasing demand for quality internet in all areas that were essentially not urbanised cities. Particularly, earlier in the year, students, activists and residents demanded better internet connectivity for Gilgit Baltistan, especially with an influx of students looking to attend online classes after returning due to the pandemic. In an article published in The Diplomat, student activists demanded better internet services in the Balochistan province too, a demand that was met with repression and arrests on the part of the authorities.

Privacy

With the advent of the pandemic, governments globally introduced a range of new policies to control and inhibit the spread of the virus within local populations. Among these were various surveillance methodologies employed to trace contacts of infected individuals as well as control compliance with other policies. Various organisations and human rights monitors have protested against the unregulated use of these extraordinary measures and strategies under the banner of public health measures, arguing that these infringe upon civil rights, especially the right to privacy, and by extension democracy itself. For example, Privacy International argued: “Unprecedented levels of surveillance, data exploitation, and misinformation are being tested across the world.”

In particular, a report dated June 2020 highlights the vulnerabilities of Pakistan’s tracking system executed through a COVID app, it was noted that “the app uses hard-coded credentials, which it sends insecurely, to communicate with the government server, and it downloads the exact coordinates of infected people in order to provide a map of their locations. A second independent test found that the app uses an unencrypted database that can be accessed by either an attacker with physical access to the device or a malicious app with root access.”

The response to these mechanisms was varied in the survey results. 43% of the respondents expressed similar concerns over the government’s increased use of tracking and data collection mechanisms to record patients' health, travel and contact histories, with around 35% arguing that they wanted to see more transparency with the data collection processes. 23.4% of the respondents were comfortable with their data being collected but with the condition of some safeguards being present. Lastly, 31.3% agreed that this data collection was essential and were comfortable with it in its current form.

However, a large majority of respondents (nearly 55%) were not comfortable downloading a contact-tracing application on their phone, compared to the 34% who were. The rest were indifferent. This ratio increased when we asked if they would be comfortable if they government mandated said applications - 64% responded that they wouldn’t, while only 27% responded affirmatively.

All that said, our respondents did report having access to and knowledge of digital safety and security - for example, as shown in the graph below, a significant majority reported using two factor authentication. Similarly, upto 93% reported that some or all of their devices were password protected.

Lack of information, Misinformation and Fake News

According to a report published by the Digital Rights Monitor, “even as the internet use soared across the country during the pandemic, people in the newly merged districts continued to rely on printed brochures and radio to get information about the virus. The delayed information about COVID-19 could have been fatal for those who would have contracted it, and lack of information about it would have promoted its spread as well. Not only were people barred from accessing crucial life-saving information, now their routine access to healthcare was also restricted.”

Furthermore, the ‘Manual on Fake News during COVID-19’ written by Digital Rights Foundation argued that fake news, especially on Whatsapp, was at an all time high since March 2020. The kinds of misinformation included: fake cures to mitigate the spread of the virus and manage illness, misinformation about the vaccine and it’s efficiency and so on.

In a study published in 2020 about Covid-19 related Whatsapp messages, Javed et al. used the following illustration to categorize misinformation about the pandemic. Fake news formed the largest of these, including wrongly identifying people diagnosed positive, the amount of deaths globally, hysteria-inducing news about surveillance systems and data collection.

Fig 1.1: Graph from Javed et al.: %age of WhatsApp texts about Covid-19 related misinformation

 

As the graph below shows, a large majority of respondents to DRF’s survey felt that fake news has increased during the pandemic.

Furthermore, a large number of respondents felt that Whatsapp contained the most misinformation amongst major social media platforms. 95% of respondents reported that they verify information before sharing it further on social media, especially Whatsapp.

According to these initial survey results, Covid-19 related digital transformations, privacy and state facilitated data collection and the effects of varied access to digital technologies is differently perceived across respondents. While they provide baseline data for further study and research, some important caveats to digital research remain, especially driven by huge disparities in access to the internet and other related devices. Further research may relate to studying disparities relating to gender, income level and so on.

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