Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official mobile application is at the centre of a controversy for allegedly sharing personal user data without consent.
The issue hit the headlines after a security researcher posted a series of tweets alleging the app was sending personal user data to a third-party domain traced to a U.S. company.
The claims were backed up by Indian fact-checking website AltNews and broadcaster NDTV.
Rahul Gandhi, chief of the main opposition Indian National Congress, attacked Modi after the links were pointed out by the researcher, who tweets under the pseudonym Elliot Alderson.
“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,” Gandhi said on Twitter on Sunday.
“He’s the Big Boss who likes to spy on Indians,” Gandhi tweeted on Monday, saying that Modi was “misusing PM position to build personal database with data on millions of Indians.”
Modi is among the most popular politicians on social media globally. The mobile app has been downloaded over 5 million times on Android alone.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the data from Modi’s app was being used only for analytics.
“The data is being used for only analytics using third party services, similar to Google Analytics. Analytics on the user data is done for offering users the most contextual content,” the BJP said, but it was silent on the issue of user consent.
The accusations blew up into a Twitter war between the main Indian parties.
A BJP official, mimicking Gandhi’s tweet, accused Congress of sharing user data with a Singapore-based firm.
“Hi! My name is Rahul Gandhi. I am President of India’s oldest political party. When you sign up for our official App, I give all your data to my friends in Singapore,” BJP spokesman Amit Malviya tweeted in retaliation.
Soon after, the Congress took down its app as well as its party membership website as the data breach charges bounced back on it.
The uproar in India comes amid international criticism of the use of personal data involving social media giant Facebook and British consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica.
Experts said data shared with political parties is prone to misuse.
“It can be misused by sharing with private companies like Cambridge Analytica which could build voter profiles of volunteers who are active through the Narendra Modi application,” cybersecurity expert Srinivas Kodali told NDTV.
On Friday, the BJP and Congress blamed each other of hiring Cambridge Analytica’s India partner and subsequently denied each other’s accusations.
The partner website had listed both parties as clients and was later taken down by Indian authorities.