Is PM Modi’s NaMo App BJP’s ‘Surgical Strike’ On User Privacy?
Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, yesterday reached out to the citizens of India for feedback on demonetisation via an app. The move was first shared via his Twitter account which has nearly 25 million followers.
The media went with either of the two all-encompassing headlines: ‘PM Modi wants you to share your opinion via app survey’ – or ‘PM Modi wants you to rate the demonetisation move.’
A recent report had claimed that the Government of India (GoI) is publishing 4-5 apps per day. Considering the huge investments that the GoI is making in developing apps, therefore, this attempt made absolute sense.
Until Further Inspection
All of the news articles and tweets that were sent out on the topic used the same link: http://nm4.in/dnldapp. This struck me as odd because it is essentially a short link to http://www.narendramodi.in/downloadapp.
(This, on the basis of testing the iOS app.)
The owner of the domain turned out to be Narendra Modi. He has also provided the BJP’s Delhi address for registration – as is evidenced in the screenshot below:
I turned my attention now towards the Narendra Modi app that users are being being directed to.
It was published on Apple’s App Store on 23 July 2015. The publisher or owner of the app is – yet again, PM Narendra Modi.
The ability to win such traction for your app is every app marketer’s wet dream. And the Prime Minister’s mobile marketing team appears to have cracked the holy grail – kudos!
We have now established that the app is owned and operated by Narendra Modi. However, one fails to find a disclosure anywhere that spells out that the move has been initiated by Modi as a private individual – and not in the capacity of Prime Minister.
But… here’s the thing.
Media outlets used the term ‘Prime Minister’ which directly (or indirectly) implies that this is an initiative by the GoI. That is not the case.
Let’s consider this hypothesis and assume that a lot of people would:
Trust it to be safe.
Assume it is affiliated to GoI.
Be unaware that the app is owned by Narendra Modi.
Be open to giving personal data.
The ‘app’ turned out to be nothing but a wrapper around a mobile website. It is extremely poor, the speed is sluggish and the content is ‘meh’. Also? Expect a lot of ‘server cannot be found’ errors.
The ‘survey section’ is on the homepage and in the top right menu. To be able to provide your opinion, you will need to sign up for the app.
Getting users to sign up for any app is a major hurdle for most app developers. Most users uninstall once they realise they’ll need to initiate the signing-up process. Hence, the former usually give the option of signing up via a social media account or using email.
It is, of course, a given that one needs a strong incentive to sign up in the first place.
Here are the Incentives Narendra Modi’s App Offers:
- Join the conversation (Will this conversation be moderated or monitored by Modi or the BJP?)
- Contribute with special tasks (What would that entail – considering this is a BJP affiliated app?)
- Earn special credits (Why would I want or need these?)
- Receive birthday greetings (Absolutely not. How do I unsubscribe?)
I Attempted to Sign Up...
But eventually gave up. The amount of details the app asks for are unprecedented. To be able to participate in the survey, you will have fill out a survey first.
Here’s the form below:
You will also have to compulsorily provide your phone number, district, city, DoB, profession and interests. The app also asks for your Voter ID. (That question, mind you, is optional – but the placement does not make it obvious.)
But – think about it. A voter ID is a crucial piece of information for any political party. So, if you've signed up for the app or are planning to, here’s the rub:
1. You’ll be handing over your voter ID, phone number, email, profession and place of origin to Narendra Modi’s team and the BJP.
2. This data will be saved in a server managed and operated by Narendra Modi and the BJP.
3. They will be contacting users – because, what’s going to stop them? Privacy laws in our country are a joke, limited to DND lists.
4. Your data might very well be analysed to plan the party’s election strategy.
Also, I suspect that most of my peers might not sign up for this app because:
1. They are wary of sharing personal data.
2. No one has the time or patience to fill out such a long survey.
Of course, considering Narendra Modi’s wide reach and appeal, there are a lot of people who might sign up – or already have. And, I am personally not sure if they realised what they just did.
Even in the midst of all these obvious loopholes, the app seems to flying under the radar of basic common sense in the media. Narendra Modi has always been ahead of the curve in comparison to other political leaders. But this, to me, seems like a gross misuse of public office and title.
All of this user data now resides in BJP coffers which can be used by them at any point of time. The gains (data-wise) are for Narendra Modi and the BJP to exploit in perpetuity.
(Aditya Kshirsagar is the communication manager at NFN Labs, a design-driven app development company. This story was originally published here. You can reach out to him @a_itya. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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