Narendra Modi, 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.
Subsequently, it was covered by PTI. Other media outlets like Indian Express, NDTV Gadgets 360, Deccan Chronicle, Yahoo! News and Hans India covered it with *agency input tag* The media reported it as, ‘PM Modi wants you share your opinion via app survey or PM Modi wants you rate the demonetisation move.’
According to The-Ken (paywall), Government of India (GoI) is publishing 4–5 apps per day. So, considering the huge investments that the GoI is making in developing apps this attempt made absolute sense.
Until further inspection
All of the news article and tweets that were sent out on the topic used the same link: http://nm4.in/dnldapp. This in itself struck me as odd because it is a short link to http://www.narendramodi.in/downloadapp.
GoI websites tend to use the domain nic.in and it is extremely rare to find an exception. So out of curiousity, I checked the registrar of the domain http://narendramodi.in on Who Is.
The owner of the domain turned out to be Narendra Modi. As evident in the screenshot below, he has provided BJP’s Delhi official address for registration.
Moving on, I turned my attention towards Narendra Modi app on which users are being directed to give feedback. This app was published on Apple’s App Store on 23rd July, 2015. The publisher or owner of the app is, yet again, Narendra Modi.
I downloaded the iOS version of the app from the US App Store. But, here’s what’s happening in the Indian App Store.
Being able to get such traction is every app marketers wet dream. And, Narendra Modi’s mobile marketing team has cracked it. Kudos.
Now, let’s bear in mind that the app is owned and operated by Narendra Modi. However, nowhere is there a disclosure that the move has been initiated by Modi as a private individual and not in the capacity as the Prime Minister. But… here’s the thing, media outlets used the term Prime Minister which directly (or indirectly) implies that this is a initiative by the GoI. That’s 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, 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 give your opinion in the survey, you’ve 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 (churn) even at the slightest hint of it. Hence, most developers give the option of signing up via a social media account or using email. Moreover, there needs to be a strong incentive given for the user to sign-up.
Here are the incentives Narendra Modi’s app offers:
- Join the conversation (Will this conversation be moderated or monitored by Modi’s team or BJP?)
- Contribute with special tasks (Like what, considering this is a BJP affiliated app?)
- Earn special credits (Why would I want or need these?)
- Receive birthday greeting (Absolutely not, how do I unsubscribe?)
I tried to sign-up anyway
But, I did not. The amount of details asked by the app are unprecedented. To be able to participate in the survey, you have fill-out a survey first. Here’s the form below:
You’ve to compulsorily give your phone number, district, city, interests, DoB, profession and interests. In between all of these mandatory questions is Voter ID. Mind you, the question is optional but the placement does not make it obvious.
But, think about it. Voter ID is a crucial piece of information for any political party. So, if you have signed-up for the app or are planning to, here’s the rub:
- You’ll be handing over your voter ID, phone number, email, profession and place of origin to Modi’s team and BJP
- This data will be saved in a server managed and operated by Modi’s team and BJP
- They will be contacting users because what’s going to stop them? Privacy laws in our country are a joke which are limited to DND lists
- Your data is going to be analysed by BJP as a part of their election strategy
Also, I suspect that most of my peers might not sign-up for this app because:
- They are wary of sharing personal data
- No one has the time or patience to fill out such a long survey
But, considering Narendra Modi’s wider appeal, there are a lot of people who might sign-up or already have. And, I am not sure if they realise what they just did.
Whatever it might be, this seems to flying under the media and civil society radar. Narendra Modi has always been technologically ahead of the curve in comparison to other political leaders. But, this to me, seems like a gross misuse of public office and title.
Congratulations to Mr. Narendra Modi and BJP for carrying out a ‘surgical strike’ to gain user data. Now, this data resides in BJP coffers which can be used by them without any accountability. The gains (data-wise) are for Narendra Modi and BJP to exploit in perpetuity.