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Booth Management Apps Used by Different Parties Have a Common Data Source. And It Is Not the EC.

We found over 4,000 politicians who had used these apps during different elections over the last few years.
Photo: X/@JharkhandJanad1. Illustration via Canva.

This is the second part of The Wire’s investigation into booth management apps used during elections. Read part one here

New Delhi/Hyderabad: “Eighty-seven elections, 25 parties, 24 states and 46 campaigns in India,” are the statistics that greet you on RajMarga’s website, one of the booth management apps that The Wire investigated as part of this series.

These numbers alone indicate the volume of their operations, which clearly exceed those of any IT cell deployed by political parties. Except RajMarga is not alone in this operation.

In part one of the series, we explained how these apps are used to print voter slips with party symbols and can aid voter profiling through surveys and messaging campaigns.

On further investigation, we found that these apps, used by multiple rival candidates and parties, accessed all their information from a common server. This means that a single data broker supplied the software, resulting in all the apps contacting its main server –  voterapp.in – for downloading voter data.

The Wire reverse engineered these apps and found that the same ‘code base’ was used for multiple apps with similar Android package names that followed a specific naming format, such as this: rajyog.member****.alldata. The **** would be replaced by a unique app ID for each candidate.

While the apps were configured with special banner images of candidates to make them look different, not all of them work when installed, as each app was configured to work during a specific election period.

The information available in the source code allowed us to trace a network of companies selling the same “VoterApp” under different brand names – VoterApps, Vijayam, Mantri, Chanakya, RajMarga, RajyogPlus, RajyogPro, Sattadhish, SanghNayak and DigiFace.

Each of these brands are essentially the same app being marketed by different private companies. The exact reason why this branding strategy was adopted by the developer remains unclear.

Part of source code of the app showing different brand names. Photo: Srinivas Kodali/The Wire

The Wire was able to retrieve information from their application programming interfaces (APIs) and found a list of clients to whom the application was sold, the election it was used for, the salesperson who sold the app and the brand name that app was sold under.

We found over 4,000 candidates who had used these apps under one brand name or another, during different elections in India. We are publishing this information so everyone can examine the scale of these operations and to disclose the details of candidates who might not have declared the usage of these apps as part of their election expenditure, as mandated by the Election Commission (EC).

Candidates across various parties have bought these apps for municipal, state assembly and parliamentary elections.

In the recently concluded general elections, candidates of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Hyderabad Lok Sabha constituency bought the same app and voter data under different brand names from different salespeople.

The BJP’s Hyderabad Lok Sabha candidate K. Madhavi Latha and other BJP leaders bought this booth app from a salesperson of the “Chanakya” brand, while Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM bought it from a salesperson from “Mantri”.

Screengrab from data accessed by The Wire. Note: The ‘Telangana Assembly Election 2024’ refers to the Lok Sabha elections as the state assembly elections were held in 2023.

The Wire analysed the data that was being shared through both apps and found that the same voter data and phone numbers were being shared with both candidates. Any information collected by the booth-level agents of various political parties can potentially reach their rival candidates through these data brokers.

Screengrab from data accessed by The Wire. Note: The ‘Telangana Assembly Election 2024’ refers to the Lok Sabha elections as the state assembly elections were held in 2023.

The data shows that the scale of the operations in claims made on RajMarga’s website are not overstated.

Who is behind these apps?

A senior salesperson from RajMarga said that these apps have been developed by “young men who are just starting their careers. They have done app development courses and were able to make these ‘rudimentary apps’,” adding that anyone who knows app development can make them.

According to information available on e-commerce platform Indiamart, RajYog is a product of Ktechbeans Software Pvt. Ltd. Data from business research platform Zauba Corp shows that Manoj Anand Rao and Vaibhav Varpe were two of four directors at Ktechbeans. These names, along with their contact numbers, also popped up in our database of salespeople who sold these apps.

Screengrab from Zauba Corp.

While Ktechbeans was dissolved some time around 2019 according to the RajMarga salesperson quoted above, Rao and Varpe are listed as directors of another firm: Leal Consultancy Services or “LCS”.

RajMarga’s website says ‘developed by LCS Pvt Ltd’ even though the salesperson denied any links. The LCS website also lists Sanghnayak as one of its products while RajMarga is listed as a client.

A Maharashtra-based salesperson contacted by The Wire, Rajesh, who only revealed his first name, referred to “Manoj” as the main engineer who had developed the app. “The team has only made the app, I will give your number [to Manoj],” Rajesh said on being asked if The Wire could speak to the developer or the main engineer behind this app.

Manoj said that he, along with the 'voter app team', used an OCR tool to process the data on the EC's website and made it available through their app. OCR stands for Optical Character Recognition. It is a technology that recognises text within a digital image and is commonly used to recognise text in scanned documents and images. "We process the data from the PDF available on EC's website," he said. However, Manoj was not able to explain how they had access to phone numbers in the excel file that the apps were accessing as the EC does not provide voters' phone numbers.

Screengrabs from different booth management apps. Photo: Srinivas Kodali/The Wire

The other director, Vaibhav Varpe, denied working with any apps in the recent elections and said he had not found “much use” of these apps in the electoral process. His LinkedIn profile lists him as the founder of LCS.

Beyond these companies, The Wire found logos of a few different companies on voterapp.in. These companies were also mentioned on LCS’s website as clients along with Rajmarga. The companies include NinthMotion, DooGraphics, MindTech Services and Blossom Publications India Limited.

The Wire was not able to determine if these companies are involved with booth management apps beyond their mention on voterapp.in.

The websites for RajMarga and voterapp.in – the domain where all the apps were primarily communicating – were pulled down shortly after The Wire contacted them for this story.

In addition to these, we found that Mantri is marketed by Apps Techno Private Limited

While we were not able to trace the source companies of each brand, all of them appear connected to each other. The salesperson from RajMarga said: “All these apps are my competitors. Maybe the developer has used a multi-branding strategy to sell these apps”, when asked how a single database could contain information for ‘competing’ apps.

Also read: The Mystery Behind Voter Slips With Party Symbols: Data Brokers and Booth Management Apps

Most of these companies operate from Pune with the exception of DigiFace, which is based in Hyderabad.

Some salespeople The Wire contacted denied knowing who had built these apps. The salesperson from RajMarga said: “We deal with election management. We enlist the services of the companies who make these apps based on what the candidate requires. We are basically a channel. Say you are the company selling it to us for Rs 100, so we sell it forward for Rs 105. It is not a big operation.”

He explained that since those who have developed the app cannot reach all candidates on their own, they use “mediums” like RajMarga to sell their app.

“App development is a separate process, and channelising it is separate. Who will take the app to the market? We are just a distribution medium,” he claimed.

The Wire sent a detailed questionnaire about the app and how voter data privacy is ensured to RajMarga and Apps Techno. The story will be updated when we receive a response.

The EC, quite familiar with the dangers of micro-targeting and voter profiling, has consistently ignored the issue of voter privacy. Political parties too don’t respect voters’ rights and have consistently violated principles of electoral fairness by buying voter data from brokers.

The Digital Personal Data Protection Act 2023, though passed by parliament, has not been enforced by the Union government and is simply ignored by the EC.

Srinivas Kodali is a researcher on digitisation and a hacktivist.

The story was updated with Manoj Karne's response on June 8 at 2:30 PM.

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