Congress, BJP trade barbs over party apps used for data-sharing: Here's the story so far

The Congress and BJP traded charges on Monday on the issue of alleged data theft, with Congress president Rahul Gandhi accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of misusing his position to build a personal database "with data on millions of Indians via the NaMo App promoted by the government", and the BJP alleging that the Congress shares user data with a Singapore-based firm.

The BJP also hit back at the Congress, with its leader Smriti Irani launching a personal attack against Rahul. The Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting took to Twitter to say even 'Chhota Bheem' knows asking permission on apps doesn't amount to snooping.

The BJP then accused Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah of using government money to run the 'Siddaramaiah App'. Following the BJP's attack on the party and its 'With INC' app, the Congress took down the app, saying it had been defunct for five months and emphasising that there was no breach of data through it. But Irani continued her attack against the Congress even after the Congress took down the app, taunting the party that its #DeleteNaMoApp campaign had backfired.

The attacks from the BJP came a day after Rahul had accused Modi of leaking details of his official app to US firms. He had termed Modi a 'Big Boss' who likes to spy, and alleged that the NaMo app secretly records audio, video, contacts and even tracks location via GPS.

He further added that the NaMo app secretly recorded audio, video, contacts of your friends and family and even tracks your location via GPS. "He's the Big Boss who likes to spy on Indians. Now he wants data on our children. Thirteen lakh NCC (National Cadet Corps) cadets are being forced to download the app," he added.

To this, Irani responded by asking Rahul if he would care to answer "why Congress sends data to Singapore servers which can be accessed by any Tom, Dick and Analytica", referring to the British firm that was at the centre of a storm for illegally accessing Facebook user data for political purposes.

File images of Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi

File images of Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi

BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra then took things to the next level, holding a press conference to accuse Siddaramaiah of the Congress of running his official app using government money. "Is it right to use public money for personal political branding? This is not only data theft but also robbery of public money," Patra said.

Karnataka, one of the last remaining Congress-ruled states will be the next Indian state to hold Assembly elections.

Patra also accused Rahul of "spreading lies". "This is a classic case of technological illiteracy of Rahul. Technologically, he is very backward. Analytics is not equivalent to spying or snooping. Those technologically ignorant (people) are trying to describe it as snooping and spying," he said.

He alleged that Congress was rattled by the Cambridge Analytica exposé and was trying everything to divert attention, and to stop Modi from communicating with others.

He added that Rahul "needed to brush" up his knowledge. Patra said it would be no wonder if Rahul tweeted that the NaMo App was connected to EVM machines.

The accusation was similar to the one launched by Amit Malviya, who heads the party's Information Technology cell. In an interview to Hindustan Times, Malviya called Rahul a "technology dinosaur". "He (Rahul) had said that connecting MRI machines will bring about a healthcare revolution. Tomorrow, Rahul will tweet that the NaMo app is connected to EVM machines, and EVM tampering happens through it. His charges are ridiculous, and not even in the realm of technology. No data has been shared with any third-party vendor. People have downloaded the NaMo app of their own volition. They can even access it in 'guest mode', without giving any permission or sharing data," Malviya told the report.

He insisted that data hasn't been shared with third party services. "The analytical tool merely studied user behaviour and surfing patterns; it does not have access to user data. For instance, a person who looks up content related to agriculture will get agriculture-related content. Cambridge Analytica was using data surreptitiously; it was stealing user data under a pretext other than political. It manipulated the political understanding of the user, which is illegal and immoral," he added.

Congress responded with a press conference of its own, whereby spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said allegations of Congress collecting data through the app were "half-truths".

"As is usual with the BJP, they did not tell you that the 'WithINC' app had only 15,000 downloads. It had become defunct because our people do not like the 'missed call' membership. Congressmen believe in physical or offline membership. In contrast the Modi app has had 50 lakh downloads," he said.

The party also said there has been no breach of data whatsoever.

Congress social media chief Divya Spandana hit back, saying "Forget sharing, we don't collect any data through the App. What a dimwit."

With inputs from IANS

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Updated Date: Mar 27, 2018 12:34:07 IST

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