Thousands of households are using the MyGate app, we asked the founder about the app and how data is treated.

A mobile app is changing the way gated communities are securedA security guard shows the MyGate app in Bengaluru
news Technology Friday, July 20, 2018 - 18:35

A sense of familiarity settles on Atul’s face when he is asked about the mobile application 'MyGate'.

“This app has made my life easier in the last six months," says the security guard, who stands at the gate of an upscale apartment in Bengaluru.

MyGate, a mobile-based security solution for gated communities, was launched in 2016 and is now used by more than 1.6 lakh users in Bengaluru.

It has also expanded its operations to Hyderabad, Pune, Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai in the past two years.

“We want to be the dominant players in this space,” says Vijay Arisetty, the founder of the application, speaking to The News Minute from the startup’s trendy office in HSR Layout, a posh locality in the south-east part of the city.

According to Vijay, the application digitises the experience of a security guard working in a gated community.

“If you compare the lifestyle we lead today to one a few years ago, the number of people visiting homes has shot up. This is because food delivery persons, package delivery persons and cabs are visiting households, in addition to relatives and house helps. A home now needs additional security to deal with this influx of visitors and that is where this application comes in handy. MyGate makes the existing security guards more effective and efficient,” he explains.

Users of the application are required to install the application on their phones and register with their name, phone number and the flat number of their apartment.

The details are verified by elected representatives in the apartment - in most cases, the elected representative is the president of the Resident Welfare Association (RWA) of the apartment.

“Once the details are verified, we confirm whether the person who has registered indeed lives in the flat number that he has submitted. After that, the user is approved,” says Vijay.

Once a MyGate system is installed in a community, users are notified whenever someone visits their home, like how a security guard would call up the house through an intercom system. Except, with MyGate, users are notified even if they are not in the apartment, as long as they are checking their smartphones.

“The application is extremely flexible. It is up to the community, the way they want to use it. Every society has its own rules and way of working and the application is flexible enough to configure itself to it,” says Vijay.

Security guards are given a customised device with which they can notify residents in the apartments. “We were trained for two weeks on how to use the application and it is simple enough to understand. We just have to ask the visitor who they are and if it is a regular visitor, then it becomes easy since we will already have added their numbers on the application,” says Atul.

He also confirmed that if the visitor is a delivery person, then their photographs are also taken. “We don’t take photographs if it is a relative or a friend visiting someone,” he says.

All the data that flows through the application is encrypted but that has not stopped users from raising concerns over data security and privacy.

“Photographs and phone numbers of people are taken. Even after we leave the particular apartment, our data will still be there on the servers of the application. The main concern is whether a stranger can find details about me without my knowledge,” says Ajay*, a user of the application.

The start-up’s founder, however, says that they have built a leak-proof system. “In fact, we sign a non-disclosure agreement with apartments assuring that the data will not be shared with third parties. We don’t want to be in the business of trading data. Our job is to provide a system that enhances the security in apartments,” reassures Vijay.

He further adds that security guards do not have access to any information. “We provide the device to security guards and the system is leak-proof since they don’t have access to the numbers of the residents,” says Vijay.

The data collected by the application is stored in separate 'instances' on MyGate’s server for each community it engages with i.e MyGate manages a collection of databases which are not linked with each other and can be controlled separately.

The elected representatives of each community are authorised to access the data. “If an incident has happened, the elected representatives can check the visitor list. We are simply giving them a platform to store information,” says Vijay.

India's lack of data privacy laws 

India is yet to come up with a comprehensive law to protect the digital privacy and security of citizens.

A committee of experts, led by former Supreme Court judge Justice BN Srikrishna, was set up last year to study data security and privacy issues and draft up-to-date privacy laws for the country.

‘Data Protection Framework for India’ is likely to be sent to the government this year as a Bill that seeks to define ‘personal data’ while also examining consent, the purpose of data collection and recommend penalties and compensation when data is misused.

Until the law is in place, there is little clarity over the ownership and transfer of personal data collected by applications like MyGate.

However, MyGate’s founder is convinced that the application will take necessary steps to protect the information of its users. He also confirmed that no official has approached them asking for data yet.

“The security at the gate is to record the entry and exit of all visitors and vendors. This is now enabled by MyGate digitally. We take all the necessary steps to protect the information. It is sensitive information and we are the custodians,” says Vijay.

Digital rights activist raise alarm over data privacy

Digital rights activists believe that the application ignores the rights of the individuals visiting apartments.

“If someone is coming to the apartment for the first time, then their picture is invariably taken. Applications like MyGate ignore the rights of individuals, mainly vendors and house helps, who enter apartments,” says Srinivas Kodali, a data security researcher.

MyGate aims to reach four million homes by the end of next year and has the first-mover advantage in the tech-based gate management space. The start-up’s founder insists that the company will aggressively expand its business in other cities after gaining a foothold in Bengaluru.  

But concerns of data privacy hover over the start-up’s ambitions. “While MyGate has around 1,60,000 users in Bengaluru, it has collected the data of more people. It collects the numbers and sometimes the photographs of regular visitors in an apartment,” Srinivas points out.

Vijay, however, is convinced that the application will be able to rise above these concerns. "It is up to the professionalism of all new-age service providers to ensure that we give the service and not bother with the data,” he assures.

(*name changed)