Apps in India: Secret Tools for Politicians

In India, common apps for taxis, food delivery, and dating are more than just convenient—they’re a goldmine of personal data for politicians. These apps, which everyone uses, can reveal details like your religion, language, and even your food preferences.

Political strategist Rutwik Joshi explains that politicians are using this data to predict votes, and they’re rarely wrong. Thanks to widespread smartphone use and lax data laws, political parties can access almost any information they want, even what you’re eating.

The concern is that microtargeting—using personal data to customize political messages—could influence votes. This practice gained attention after former US President Donald Trump’s 2016 win, linked to Cambridge Analytica’s data use from Facebook. Despite global concerns, India hasn’t done much to regulate this.

India’s vast data landscape includes 650 million smartphone users and government databases shared with private companies. This means politicians have extensive data for microtargeting voters. Prateek Waghre from the Internet Freedom Foundation warns that this could lead to increased surveillance with little privacy protection.

New laws to protect data are still not in place, making India’s data landscape like the “wild, wild west.” Joshi says no laws are being broken—apps collect data because users allow it. This data helps politicians decide everything from campaign speeches to prayer locations.

Whether this level of targeting changes minds is unclear, but it does invade privacy. There’s also concern that current or future governments could misuse this data to favor their supporters.

With India’s ongoing issues with misinformation and the unregulated use of data, experts like Srinivas Kodali argue that election data use needs regulation to ensure fairness. Otherwise, elections may be free but not fair.

This summary is based on reporting by the BBC.

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