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Decode

TDP Accused Of Profiling Voters Through 'WeApp'; Why Booth Level Apps Are Concerning

The screenshots of the application show the Weapp has detailed information of voters at booth level including family details, phone numbers, occupation, caste, resident’s status, political leanings, including that of voters who are dead.

By - Srinivas Kodali | 20 May 2024 8:50 AM GMT

 The YSR Congress party (YSRCP) has accused the Telugu Desam party (TDP) of using a new mobile application “We App” to profile voters and to bribe them for votes. The YSRCP party lodged a complaint on “We App” and TDP with the Election Commission of India.

These kind of booth management apps are ballooning in India to help political parties manage voters at the last moment. The Telugu Desam party is one of the important parties in India which has been adopting technology in elections that are often controversial.

Not a lot is known about the “We App" except for a few screenshots that have been made available due to the complaint filed by YSRCP. The screenshots of the application show the app has detailed information of voters at booth level including family details, phone numbers, occupation, caste, resident’s status, political leanings, including that of voters who are dead.

The app in question is not available on Android Play Stores and has been distributed to TDP volunteers without making it available to people at large. A copy of the Android installation file was available on malware research platform Koodus with a package name “com.weapp.dapp”. Analyzing the installation file shows it is a hybrid application that points to a web url “https://www.viap.in/oapp/app/dashboard.php” , which has disappeared without trace after the complaint was filed.





 



The YSR Congress Party is accusing the Telugu Desam Party of stealing voter data as it has not collected this information directly from the voters. The written complaint notes “There is a clear criminal conspiracy by the TDP leaders to steal the personal data of the voters by unauthorised access to the computer networks and to download the copies of the data dishonestly and the same is punishable under Section 66B of the Information Technology Act 2000”.

The party requested the Election Commission of India to order seizure of mobile devices for further forensic analysis. Their complaint specifically demands for “preservation of digital evidence is vital for substantiating legal charges and ensuring that those responsible are held accountable under the law” noted the complaint. The complaint demanded the commission to order returning officers and law enforcement authorities to check devices containing the WeApp to ensure there is no electoral fraud.

Booth management apps are primarily used by political parties to print voter slips and to ensure voting percentage is high and their perceived voters are turning up to vote.

Most parties are now using booth management apps to print voter slips with candidate’s photos and party symbols. BJP’s “Saral” app is used for similar functions with more data collection to collect feedback on Narendra Modi’s programmes among the voting population at booth level.


Election Commission and Privacy of Voters

The Election Commission of India has recently issued an advisory to all political parties to not collect information from voters under the guise of surveys promising post election beneficiary schemes. It termed this practice a violation and as a corrupt practice of bribery under Section 123(1) of the Representation of the People Act, 195.

The Telugu Desam party is being accused of using the “We App” to actually bribe voters by digitally transferring money to UPI accounts of voters to secure votes. This booth management application is thus not limited to collecting voter information, printing voter slips but to ensure the voter actually votes for the party by bribing the voter.

The Telugu Desam party was caught with a similar application Sevamitra during the elections of 2019, where TDP volunteers went door to door collecting voter’s feedback with Aadhaar data collected through state institutions. While a Special Investigation Team was formed by Telangana Police to look into the Aadhaar data breach, it never finished its investigation.

The Election Commission of India completely ignored the complaint filed by YSRCP in 2019 on Sevamitra as it had no capacity to understand these issues. The commission didn’t even order institutional agencies like the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN) to investigate if there were any breaches of data.

There were letters sent to the Election Commission of India from the Chief Secretary of Andhra Pradesh about the investigation with no actual outcome from it. While the Election Commission of India is not responsible for data protection and privacy of voters, it is responsible to keep elections free and fair and lack of capacity within the Government of India makes it hard for the commission to engage on this in a meaningful manner.

Numbers and Elections

The role of data in elections has become more important than before, with political consultants and peselogists using data to make statistical models that are able to predict political parties strengths and weaknesses at the booth level. The publication of Form 20 information by the Election Commission of India at booth level allows political parties to identify strong booths and weak booths on how the party has been performing historically.

These numbers published by the ECI combined with voter feedback is allowing parties to understand more about voter’s needs and feedback. The YSR Congress Party too has evolved their governance strategy by hiring party workers as government volunteers to collect personal data of every individual in the state through various schemes. The Election Commission of India has barred the volunteers in Andhra Pradesh to be part of any election duties due to their close association with YSRCP and continued opposition from the TDP.

In Andhra Pradesh the political parties have evolved new boundaries below the electoral boundaries of booth, calling them clusters to help them profile the population. Each booth consisting of around 1000-1400 voters has a pre-drawn electoral boundary.

In 2016, during Andhra Pradesh state survey TDP created new boundaries of clusters for every 50 households with around 150-180 voters. This has evolved further with YSR Congress party hiring volunteers who are responsible for these 50 households to collect data from these households and be part of the party's booth management committees.

While data is seen as the source of all electioneering, it is an abstraction of voters which are being further processed with statistical analysis and algorithms to determine the best course of actions during elections. Elections in India are now highly based on numbers and how to make use of these numbers into a winnable strategy. This is where data, apps, consultants come into play and are gaming the elections.

Mirco Targeting and Micro management of Voters

The new age booth management applications are allowing political parties to micro target voters based on their caste, occupation and their political views. This detailed information of voters is being leveraged to manipulate them through a host of methods including bribery and mechanisms like fake news. All of these methods being unethical and largely interfering in the integrity of elections.

The micro targeting of voters is an issue that has become relevant in elections with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. It showed how political parties can use information to micro-target individuals and share information that is targeted in nature to manipulate them. The Election Commission of India ignored investigating the role of micro-targeting and Cambridge Analytica in Indian elections, with reports suggesting its past involvement in the country. In 2019, when TDP was caught with the Sevamitra scandal, many equated it to India’s domestic Cambridge Analytica scandal with no actual investigation into it.

The micro-targeting of voters is now not limited to elections alone, with political parties in a continuous campaign mode throughout their term. This is leading to parties continuously using various mechanisms to fool the voters as much as they can to retain narrative among voters. This micro-targeting is leading to micro management of the population through their lives with the help of institutions of state and mechanisms like census which allow more information collection from voters.

Why Andhra Pradesh? Why TDP?

When it comes to the usage of technology in elections, Andhra Pradesh is a very significant state with continued reported experiments and violations. There are two factors that are significant for this, there is increased investment by the state on technology to collect information of the residents and the other being caste politics of the state.

Caste politics is also the root of investments into Information Technology, with kamma caste groups who predominantly support TDP using these investments to become software engineers at the heart of 2000s. A significant number of volunteers of TDP are thus tech savvy and can build information systems that can be used for political campaigning. The YSR Congress which has support from Reddys is also using state investments to procure large scale information of voters through the volunteer setup.

Also Read:Islamophobic Ads Flood Meta Platforms In The Middle Of Indian Elections

Computers were primarily used to control large scale processes like nuclear reactors, factory operations. The usage of computing systems in elections and in society can produce similar control over social systems. The usage of data and information technology in elections is how these systems are being deployed to provide control over the rest of the society through perfect electioneering.

Elections are a means for control by one category of caste groups over another, a social order that existed in India historically. The acquisition of data of voters thus needs to be seen as a means to control the voter. The mathematical models and numbers essentially are abstracting social orders of a caste society to further help produce control in the society.