New Delhi, May 6 (PTI) The coronavirus tracking app Aarogya Setu was “secure” and there was no privacy breach in it, Union IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Wednesday, rejecting charges that it was a “sophisticated surveillance system” that was leveraged to track citizens without their consent.
The government”s assertion also came a day after French hacker and cybersecurity expert Elliot Alderson had claimed that “a security issue has been found” in the app and that “privacy of 90 million Indians is at stake”.
Describing the app as a “prominent preventive measure” in India”s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, an official release said as per information available, close to nine crore users have downloaded it as on May 4.
The mobile application is used by the government for contact tracing and disseminating medical advisories to users in order to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“This is a technological invention of India — Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, our scientists, NIC, Niti Aayog and some private (entities) — whereby it is a perfectly accountable platform to help in the fight against COVID-19. It is safe and secure. The data is in an encrypted form. Most importantly, it is for the safety of Indians in public interest because it cautions you in the event there is a COVID-infected person in your vicinity.” Prasad told PTI.
Last week, the Centre made it mandatory for government and private sector employees to use Aarogya Setu mobile application to bolster the efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, and instructed the organisational heads to ensure 100 percent coverage. The Union Home Ministry also said the mobile app will be a must for people living in COVID-19 containment zones.
Following the government”s announcement, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi alleged that the app is a “sophisticated surveillance system, outsourced to a private operator, with no institutional oversight”, raising serious data security and privacy concerns.
“Technology can help keep us safe; but fear must not be leveraged to track citizens without their consent,” Gandhi had said.
Using the GPS (global positioning system), the app helps in tracking movement of COVID-19 patients within coronavirus hotspots. However, the opposition party and others have maintained that the application captures more information than necessary for the tracking purposes.
Prasad said the mobile application also helps tracing contacts in the event a person is infected.
“It is a very robust invention of technology and many other countries are using similar applications to fight COVID-19. And the second most important point is that the data is limited. Routine data remains for 30 days and in the event you are infected, then (for) 45 to 60 days. Then automatically it will vanish,” he explained.
There is always an option to scratch the app out of the phone or uninstall it, he added. “Then what is this ”hangama” (rukus) all about? The country has understood its utility and has willingly accepted it,” he said.
The Aarogya Setu app is for smart phones.
“For feature phones we have developed Aarogya Setu IVRS. The app is absolutely robust in terms of privacy protection and safety and security of data,” he said.
According to the Union home ministry, it is mandatory for all government and private sector employees attending office to download the app.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been urging people to download the Aarogya Setu app, saying it is a fantastic use of technology to combat coronavirus.
“Tracks the spread of COVID-19 and notifies you if someone around you is suffering from it. Also lists help-desk numbers of various states,” he had said in a series of tweets last month.
Dismissing Alderson”s claim, the government said “no personal information of any user has been proven to be at risk by this ethical hacker”. PTI NAB PLB PYK PYK
Google Removes Viral Indian App That Deleted Chinese Ones: 10 Points
Google has pulled an app from its Google Play store that helped users identify and remove apps of Chinese origin. The Mountain View, California-based company told Gadgets 360 that the “Remove China Apps” application violated Google Play policy. Before getting removed from Google Play, the app – developed by Jaipur-based OneTouch AppLabs – clocked over 50 lakh downloads in just over two weeks of its launch. It is the second viral app from India to be pulled from Google Play in a matter of days. Google has earlier removed Mitron, a TikTok clone.
Here are the top 10 points you need to know about this big story:
- Google told Gadgets 360 that “Remove China Apps” application was violating its Deceptive Behaviour policy. The policy highlights various things that apps listed on Google Play can’t do but one specific point is relevant in the case of “Remove China Apps” story. Google says it doesn’t allow “apps that mislead users into removing or disabling third-party apps or modifying device settings or features.”
- While the app from OneTouch AppLabs claimed to be developed for “educational purposes,” it was capitalising on the anti-China sentiment prevalent across the country right now. The anti-China sentiment in the country has been sparked by the novel coronavirus pandemic, India-China border dispute, and more. A survey recently indicated that 67 percent of Indians hold China responsible for the spread of COVID-19.
- Remove China Apps made its debut on the Google Play store on May 17 and was downloaded over 50 lakh times before getting pulled, as per data from Google Play. It was not available on Apple App Store for iPhone users. Android is the prevalent mobile operating system in the country and as per StatCounter, it is used by 95 percent of mobile phone users in the country.
- The app also led the top free apps chart on Google Play and remained there for at least two days. After the removal of the app, Zoom is back on top of free apps list on Google Play, followed by government’s contact-tracing app Aarogya Setu.
- Remove China Apps allowed users to identify and remove apps that were of Chinese origin on their smartphones. While it was able to identify popular apps, including the likes of TikTok, ShareIt, UC Browser, and CamScanner, from Chinese developers, it didn’t detect apps that come pre-installed on phones from Chinese manufacturers. Remove China Apps was free and fairly easy to use, and didn’t include any advertisements.
- To use the app, the Android users simply had to install it from Google Play store and give the necessary permissions. Following which, the users just had to tap on Scan Now to scan their phone and the app would list all the Chinese-origin apps installed on the phone. The app would also give a delete icon next to every app which when tapped would uninstall the app from user’s smartphone. The app claimed to use market research data to identify which apps were of Chinese-origin.
- OneTouch AppLabs has remained tightlipped about the app and hasn’t responded to media requests. It used Twitter and its website to announce the removal of “Remove China Apps” from Google Play late-Tuesday and simply wrote – “Google has suspended our #RemoveChinaApps from google play store. Thank you all for your support in past 2 weeks.”
- Apart from India, the Remove China Apps application was also gaining momentum in Australia, where according to data from App Annie, the app had topped the Tools section in Google Play store. Still, the majority of the app’s users resided in India. Even though the app has been removed from Google Play store, it will continue to function on phones that already have it installed.
- Remove China Apps’ removal comes soon after Google had pulled the Mitron app from Google Play store. Mitron was a clone of TikTok that also benefitted from anti-China sentiments and also saw lakhs of downloads. Despite issues the app still managed to find traction among users and went viral.
- TikTok, a popular short-video app, was also in news recently, in part because of the anti-China sentiment. TikTok is developed by ByteDance, a company that is headquartered in Beijing. Scores of smartphone users in the country took to Google Play and Apple App Store to downrank the app. Notably, apart from anti-China sentiments, the other key reasons for the 1-star rating flood were the ongoing YouTube vs TikTok debate on social media as well as a video glorifying acid attacks from a TikTok user.
© Gadgets 360
Remove China Apps Becomes Top Free App on Google Play in India Amidst Anti-China Sentiment
Remove China Apps, an Android app that claims to identify China-made apps on your Android phone and remove them, has gone viral in India. The app is currently at the top spot of Google Play’s top free apps list and it has been downloaded by over 10 lakh users since its launch on May 17. This development comes at a time when anti-China sentiment is high in the country, sparked by the novel coronavirus pandemic, India-China border dispute, and more. Another app playing on similar sentiments – Mitron – has also gained traction over the last several days and is being touted as an alternate to TikTok.
What is Remove China Apps?
The creators of the Remove China Apps claim that the app is “developed for educational purposes” and it allows users to “identify” the country of origin of certain apps installed on their Android phones. However, as the name suggests, it only identifies apps that are developed by Chinese companies and users can further uninstall them through Remove China Apps if they wish to.
It is also noted that the app went live on Google Play on May 17 and since its launch, it has been downloaded by over 10 lakh users. The app has largely received positive reviews with 4.8 rating on the Google Play Store.
Remove China Apps: What is it meant for?
Remove China Apps is free to download on Google Play Store. The app does not require a login to a function and users can simply select “scan” to identify the Chinese apps on their Android phones.
Notably, the Remove China Apps only seems to be detecting the apps installed by users from Google Play Store or other third-party app stores on their phones, and not the ones pre-installed on Chinese smartphone makers.
Moreover, the Remove China Apps is developed by the OneTouch AppLabs that has only this app listed on Google Play Store. OneTouch AppLabs claims that the company is based in Jaipur and the domain ownership site, Whois reveals that the website was created on 8 May. OneTouch AppLabs website also states that the company provides services in Android and iOS app development and hybrid app development.
Why is Remove China Apps getting so popular?
The Remove China Apps is being widely downloaded at a time when anti-China sentiments are on the rise in the country. This sentiment is sparked by several controversies such as the YouTube vs TikTok row, India-China border dispute, and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the country. Notably, a survey recently indicated that 67 percent of Indians hold China responsible for the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.
Therefore, due to these controversies, several Indians are now looking for alternatives to Chinese products and phone apps. Recently, another app called Mitron crossed over 50 Lakh downloads on Google Play Store, that many believe is India’s response to China’s TikTok, however a recent report indicated that Mitron app’s source code was purchased from a Pakistani firm.
Paytm Moves Delhi High Court, Claims Telcos Not Preventing Phishing Activity
One97 Communications Ltd, which runs the online payment platform Paytm, has moved the Delhi High Court alleging that telecom service providers are not blocking fraudsters who are defrauding its customers by “phishing” activities over the various mobile networks.
Paytm has claimed that millions of its customers have been defrauded by the phishing activities over the mobile networks and the failure of the telecom companies to prevent the same has “caused financial and reputational loss” to it for which it has sought damages of Rs 100 crore from them.
Phishing is a cybercrime where people are contacted by email, phone calls or text messages by someone posing as a legitimate representative of a organisation to lure them to part with their sensitive data, including banking and credit card details and passwords.
Paytm, in its petition, has contended that the telecom majors — Airtel, Reliance Jio, BSNL, MTNL, and Vodafone — are violating their obligations under the Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preferences Regulations (TCCCPR) 2018 which was notified by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to curb problem of unsolicited commercial communications.
Paytm has contended that under the regulations, the telecom companies are required to verify purported telemarketers seeking registration (called registered telemarketers or RTMs) with them before granting access to their customer data and also take action immediately against all fraudulent RTMs.
The petition has contended that the telcos “failure” to undertake proper verification prior to such registration enables fraudulent telemarketers to carry out phishing activities against customers of Paytm and its associate companies.
It has further contended that under the statutory regime it is the telecom companies responsibility to prevent such fraud and deter the fraudsters through blocking and/or financial disincentives.
Explaining the modus operandi of the fraudsters, Paytm has said that such people or entities get registered with the telecom companies and get assigned themselves headers, like Paytm, PYTM, PTM, IPAYTN, PYTKYC and its derivatives, which are similar to official headers of Paytm — including BPaytm, FPaytm, PAYTMB, Ipaytm and mPaytm — and then send messages to its customers for getting their sensitive and private information, including account details and passwords.
The messages usually contain some link which when clicked installs a software on the phone allowing the fraudster to get the customer”s financial account details stored on the device, the petition has said.
Some fraudulent RTMs call the customers and seek their private information under the pretext of completing their KYC (know your customer) requirements for making their Paytm wallets operational, it said.
Paytm has sought directions from the court to TRAI to ensure complete and strict implementation of TCCCPR provisions to curb fraudulent unsolicited commercial communications sent over mobile networks and to take action against the telecom companies for violating their obligations to verify telemarketers under the regulations.
It has also sought direction to the Centre to ensure no sim care is sold without proper verification and to establish an inter-agency task force to coordinate action for limiting fraud taking place over telecom networks.
Paytm has alleged that even after violations were brought to the notice of the telecom companies they failed to take prompt action to block the fraudulent RTMs and impose financial disincentives against them.
It has sought a direction to the telecom companies to take effective action under the TCCCPR to block the phone numbers of the telemarketers who are sending unsolicited commercial communications.
Paytm has also claimed that certain TCCCPR provisions provide for action only against those telemarketers who make unsolicited communications in bulk and provide for only graded penalties and had has sought an order declaring such regulations as unconstitutional and ultra vires the TRAI Act.
It has also sought a declaration from the court that under the regulations the telecom companies are obligated to put in place mechanisms to register reports of violations from customers.
Disclosure: Paytm’s parent company One97 is an investor in Gadgets 360.
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