The Malaysian Insider


In 1 Malaysia email, fears of a privacy breach

Apr 22, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, April 22 — Tricubes Berhad’s statement yesterday that revenue from the 1 Malaysia email project will come from advertising and transactions with the government poses a potential privacy risk.

Other free email services such as Gmail and Yahoo offer targeted advertisements which are optimised according to the contents of your mailbox.

The website, which the government says will help it establish a more direct and secure connection to the public, will be powered by a similar platform from Microsoft, called Windows Live.

Information technology experts told The Malaysian Insider today that the United States-based software giant will likely mine through data of Malaysians to ensure maximum ad revenue from what is likely to be a massive outlay on its part to locate its data centres locally.

Once other value-added services such as online payment of summons, fines, income tax and EPF kick in, these records, many of which are confidential between the government and the individual in question, will be available to both Microsoft and Tricubes.

Ultimately, this means even private information such as one’s salary, credit card information and records of public offences will be available to the private companies.

Although the government has insisted that the service will not be made compulsory, it has set a KPI of 100 per cent subscription by Malaysians aged 18 and over by 2015.

Experts also said that the government could move to encourage take up by allowing Tricubes exclusive rights to e-government services.

“As I understand it, they will have to place their data centres in Malaysia and if I were Microsoft, I’d say yes, but you have to give us your data. Basically, the government is exchanging 16 million users for the service,” said IT consultant Yusseri Yusoff.

Tricubes, which is in danger of being delisted from Bursa Malaysia due to financial irregularities, is only stumping up an initial RM5.3 million, making up the RM50 million investment over 10 years.

The additional capital expenditure of moving into full operations by 2015 will likely be borne by Microsoft, experts said.

There are an estimated 16 million Malaysians aged 18 and over and Tricubes’ website promises users 25 gigabytes of storage each, bringing the potential storage required to 400,000 terabytes.

By comparison, Google, the world’s most popular search engine, takes half a month to process that amount of data.

Public outcry over the project that many said was a waste of public funds forced both the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to clarify on Tuesday that the government would not fund the platform for secure communication with the public.

Others, including opposition leaders, were concerned over the potential “big brother” threat to privacy.

The selection of Tricubes as the project developer has also come under scrutiny as it is in danger of being delisted after falling under Bursa Malaysia’s Guidance Note 3 (GN3).

The little-known ACE-listed company triggered GN3, paragraph 2.1(f) last year when auditors “expressed a modified opinion with emphasis on Tricubes’ going concern in the latest audited financial statements for the financial year ended March 31, 2010”, according to a filing made by Tricubes on October 29, 2010.

As of 5pm yesterday, nearly 40,000 Facebook users have joined a virtual protest against the project and both #1malaysiaemail and Tricubes are still among the top 10 Malaysian topics on microblogging site Twitter, over two days since the email project was first announced.

Open source expert Colin Charles said the business model for free web services, such as the 1 Malaysia email accounts, was to use data mined to market products to users.

“This is nothing special. Facebook and Google both do this,” he said but added that there are checks and balances that allow them to sell products and advertisements to users, but not to give away your information to third parties.

“Tricubes said it will be running ads, so of course there will be data mining. It is quite likely both Tricubes and Microsoft will look at your emails.

“It is somewhat ironic because if President Barack Obama did this in the US, he would be slaughtered,” Charles added.