All You Need To Know About The NaMo App Data Leak

By Aaroosh Jairath:

Ever since social media has come into the picture, there has been a constant fear about the wealth of data that the social media app giants collect and store on their servers.

Recently, there was a massive revelation about Facebook’s mishandling of its user data. The dust had barely settled down when another potentially earthshaking revelation came to light. Read ahead.

The BJP Has A History Of Data Breaches

The BJP has already been at the receiving end of a substantial amount of backlash regarding the security of Aadhaar data during their tenure, with cases of data leaks being regularly reported. But don’t worry, it’s very secure.

In fact, it’s so secure that it’s specially kept behind walls that are 13 feet high and five feet thick. Don’t believe it? But, that’s what Attorney General K K Venugopal presented in his defence of the Aadhaar system in courts.

Needless to say, this didn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the government’s ability to safeguard data that the citizens willingly (kinda, sorta) provided. This recent revelation brought to light the fact that the government was actually unwillingly collecting data from its citizens.

A security researcher who tweets under the pseudonym Elliot Anderson accused the official mobile app of Prime Minister Narendra Modi (downloaded over 5 million times on Android alone) of sending the user data to a US-based company called WizRocket Inc. without the user’s consent.

What Does This App Do?

The app allows party cadres and followers of PM Modi to directly connect with him and the various MPs and MLAs from their constituencies. By creating profiles on the app, users can also earn points and win some special awards for their actions that lend an interactive angle to it.

Through this, even a common worker can now connect to their local MLA or the PM through the New India Connect section. Sounds too good be true?

Well, the ‘catch 22’ was that the user’s data was unwillingly harvested and sent to an analytics company which is headquartered in the US (and not subject to Indian laws), thus removing it from the purview of the Indian judiciary, if anything goes wrong.

How The BJP Sought To Defend Themselves

A day after these claims, the privacy policy on Narendramodi.in, the website associated with the NaMo app, was updated to state that: “Certain information may be shared with third-party services to offer a better user experience.”

Earlier, it stated that: “Your personal information and contact details shall remain confidential and shall not be used for any purpose other than our communication with you.”

In their defence, BJP has said the data was being used only for analytics using third-party service (similar to Google Analytics) to offer users the ‘most contextual content’.

What Do Others Have To Say?

This expose was followed by a scathing attack by the Congress party with the INC President Rahul Gandhi accusing Narendra Modi of being a “Big Boss” for secretly keeping audio records, video, contacts of friends and families and even tracking the location via GPS of the users. He said, “Hi! My name is Narendra Modi. I am India’s Prime Minister. When you sign up for my official app. I give all your data to my friends in American Companies.”

This began a war of words with Amit Malviya, the chief of BJP’s IT operations who hit back, claiming that the Congress were themselves sharing data from their official app to friends in Singapore.

Additionally, Mr Malviya did not respond to a specific question posed to him by various newspapers regarding whether this specific information was shared with a third party without the users’ consent.

The backlash was also met by criticism from over 13 lakh cadets of India’s National Cadet Corps who were asked to install the app and share information like phone numbers and email addresses with the Prime Minister’s Office.

Experts remain critical of the fact that this information can be misused by private companies like Cambridge Analytica which could build voter profiles of volunteers who are active through the Narendra Modi application, and then use these profiles for psychographic targeting during elections – thus negating free choice and acting against democratic interests.

The debate should be centred upon the manner in which these e-governance apps with poor security standards collect our vital data and then do little to none to protect it.

India’s public and private sectors do not have the best of an ‘information security culture’ – and one can be assured that when the government says something is secure, in all likeliness, it’s not.

What’s Next?

One thing to note is the fact that the Congress deleted its official app ‘With INC’ from the Google Play Store, making it unavailable for Android users. The deletion came amid allegations flying thick and fast between the Congress and BJP over potential accusations by Elliot Alderson over security issues with a web page associated with the Congress.

The business models of the new-age social generation, broadly referred to as ‘surveillance capitalism’, is particularly toxic when it is transformed by political parties and government through models like the NaMo app or the Aadhaar.

In the name of ‘state surveillance,’ this model of ‘surveillance capitalism’ is hampering the idea of the right to privacy of a citizen.

It remains to be seen what actions will be undertaken by the judiciary (which has been critical of these data breaches after regular instances) and the government to prevent such mishaps. With the elections planned for the next year, things certainly don’t look good for the ‘Modi Wave’, with their credibility amongst the audience wearing down after such instances.

A version of this post was first published here.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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