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India’s polls turn into the ‘world’s biggest data mine’ as parties cash in on the voter data

  • Posted on May 27, 2024
  • News

Indian parties exploit the lack of data laws to amass personal voter info and micro-target citizens at unprecedented levels ahead of elections, raising privacy and election fairness concerns.


Indian political parties are leveraging India’s high smartphone penetration and absence of data protection legislation to accumulate highly intrusive amounts of data on the electorate, say analysts. In the current general election campaigns, parties have been buying user data from applications and internet-based organizations to compile a dossier of the citizens’ demography, preferences, and activities.

”India came into this year of elections as the biggest possible data mine in the world,” said political strategist Rutwik Joshi, who is advising over a dozen candidates. These words are: “With the data available, we can predict how you will vote – these predictions rarely go wrong. ”

Campaigns and parties are employing the data to sell their messages, advertisements, and campaigns to the targeted voters at the neighborhood level. Information such as religion, eating habits, and the type of messages posted on social media is being used to decide where a candidate should canvass, what speech to deliver, and what dress code to wear.

When legally obtaining user data from apps and websites, privacy advocates argue that the practices are a form of civil rights violation and can lead to abuses by future governments against their political opponents. There are also fears that both Indian agencies and foreign actors may use the data for “computational propaganda” and tilt the election in their favor through disinformation.

India does not have a single law on data protection; it came up with limited legislation last year and has not put it into practice. Some analysts have argued that compared to other democracies, regulatory bodies have not set clear rules on how voter data can be collected and processed.

It is the wild, wild west – except on the internet,” said researcher Srinivas Kodali. “We’re not witnessing the Election Commission developing the right measures to counter data and microtargeting, as many other countries have done. ”

Also Read: Britain’s PM Sunak has declared an early general election for 4th July 2019

With India’s polls taking place in the world’s largest democracy, the issue of whether the unrestricted use of personal data has eroded principles of free and fair elections remains up for debate.

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