INDIA’S two major parties are exchanging barbs over a controversy spurred by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official smartphone app.
The PM’s official NaMo App, which allows users to receive messages, updates and emails from Modi, was on Sunday accused by the Indian National Congress opposition leader Rahul Gandhi of leaking personal data to a third party without their consent.
“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,” he tweeted.
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.
Ps. Thanks mainstream media, you're doing a great job of burying this critical story, as always.https://t.co/IZYzkuH1ZH
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) March 25, 2018
“Modi’s NaMo App secretly records audio, video, contacts of your friends & family and even tracks your location via GPS. He’s the Big Boss who likes to spy on Indians,” the Congress leader added.
Gandhi’s comments spurred outrage on Indian social media and came after a security researcher under the pseudonym Elliot Alderson claimed on Saturday that the app was sending users’ data to a United States-based company named CleverTap.
When you create a profile in the official @narendramodi #Android app, all your device info (OS, network type, Carrier …) and personal data (email, photo, gender, name, …) are send without your consent to a third-party domain called https://t.co/N3zA3QeNZO. pic.twitter.com/Vey3OP6hcf
— Elliot Alderson (@fs0c131y) March 23, 2018
Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) later denied the allegations and said the data was being used only for analytics to offer all users the “most contextual content”.
“We also take this opportunity to encourage Rahul Gandhi to download NaMo App to keep himself appraised of the good things happening in India,” tweeted the BJP official Twitter account.
We all know that Rahul Gandhi is no match for Narendra Modi. But seeing his fright about the Namo App, is very amusing. When his bots tried to trend #DeleteNamoApp day before yesterday, the popularity and downloads of Namo App only increased. Today, it will be no different! pic.twitter.com/Wnan0IQFIV
— BJP (@BJP4India) March 25, 2018
CleverTap responded to the controversy by saying that its employees “don’t have access to any of the data stored with it by a publisher”, as reported by the Hindustan Times. “CleverTap doesn’t sell, share, rent, re-market, or do anything funny with publisher data.”
Gandhi’s accusations came just days after the BJP accused the Congress of hiring Cambridge Analytica in India, which is under scrutiny for improperly harvesting the personal data of Facebook users to influence elections in the US and elsewhere.
— Elliot Alderson (@fs0c131y) March 25, 2018
It previously read “Your personal information and contact details shall remain confidential” but was later changed to: “Certain information maybe processed by third party services.”
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Prime Minister Modi has not commented on the issue. BJP said the app – which has seen about 5 million downloads on the Google Android Play Store – allows users access even in a guest mode that does not require them to grant any permissions.
On Monday, Gandhi hit back again tweeting that: “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.”
Additional reporting from Reuters.