Data politics: BJP, Congress in spat over sharing app data without users’ consent

Mumbai: An app war has broken out between the Congress party and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—appropriately on Twitter.

Fought in the shadow of the global storm on data leaks from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, the two Indian parties accused each other of sharing user data with third parties collected without the users’ consent.

The Congress on Monday took down its app—WithINC —after facing allegations of sharing user data with servers in Singapore. However, the party has claimed it was forced to remove the app as the wrong URL was being circulated and people were being misled.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter after an anonymous French security expert claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s NaMo app was sending user data to a third-party website without user consent.

“Modi misusing PM position to build personal database with data on millions of Indians via the NaMo App promoted by Govt. If as PM he wants to use tech to communicate with India, no problem. But use the official PMO APP for it. This data belongs to India, not Modi,” Gandhi tweeted on Monday.

WithINC is the official app of the Congress to allow users to connect with the party through regular updates from various social media and news channels. “It also allows you to apply for membership of the INC by completing all steps of the INC membership process,” a descriptor on Google Play Store says.

Information and broadcasting minister Smriti Irani on Monday tweeted, “Now that we’re talking tech, would you care to answer Rahul Gandhi ji why Congress sends data to Singapore Servers which can be accessed by any Tom, Dick and Analytica?”

Trashing BJP’s allegations, Congress’ social media head Divya Spandana claimed that the membership page on the Congress app had been defunct for a while. “We don’t collect any personal data through the INC app. We discontinued it a long time ago. It was being used only for social media updates. We collect data for membership and this is through our website, this is encrypted,” Spandana tweeted on Monday.

The NaMo app is designed to ensure that users do not have access to any data other than their own, a government official said on Sunday, requesting anonymity. Data entered by any user is used for analytics using third-party service, similar to Google Analytics, said the official.

“Apps ought to request the minimum of a phone’s functionality. They should evaluate the data they need, collect as little as needed, and clearly state what use they will make of the data,” said Pranesh Prakash, policy director at think tank Centre for Internet and Society.

“The Narendra Modi app, quite famously, provided unrestricted access to the personal data of more than 5 million users,” Prakash added.livemint

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