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Spam calls, messages amid elections shine a spotlight on privacy concerns

INDSpam calls, messages amid elections shine a spotlight on privacy concerns


In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections 2024, citizens in Hyderabad have been receiving calls unknown numbers promoting political parties and contestants.
| Photo Credit: Getty Images

 

Phone calls at all hours of the day from unheard of places has become the norm for citizens of Hyderabad in the run-up to the Lok Sabha Elections. “It is a new number every time, what to report and what not to?” asked 25-year-old P. Nithish, a native of Hyderabad working as an IT employee in Bengaluru. “First, I get a call from Madhya Pradesh. The next time it is a number from Karnataka. Sometimes it is an auto-recorded message telling me which party to vote for, while another time there is an actual person on the other end,” he said.  

For about a month and a half, Telangana voters’ phones have been flooded with election-related calls and messages from unknown and unique numbers. While this might look like a regular phenomenon during the election season, the abundance of such messages and calls underlines serious privacy concerns.

“The numbers are being sourced illegally from dark web or from banks who are onboarding third party vendors for various loans services,” explained V.S. Raju, Joint Advisor at Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRAI). “The information they have is something, but not accurate which is why calls are random,” he said.  

It is the service providers that issue these numbers and provide resources for automated or Interactive voice response (IVR) calls, he said adding that action needs to be taken against them by reporting the numbers.  

Spammers are evolving and have now managed to slide into voters’ WhatsApp with messages replicating their ‘voter slip’ with pre-written message about which candidate to vote.

Vineel Bheemanadham, 24, a resident of Canada received a message asking him to vote for Kompella Madhavi Latha, a BJP candidate from Hyderabad. “I was surprised to see this message. They have decided the candidate and party for me already, and the fact that they replicated my voter slip is concerning. Plus, I am no longer in India, why would this be sent to me,” he said.  

“I got a call yesterday where a women started explaining me a policy and few seconds into a call, she said vote for BJP if you want these policies to be implemented,” said Nithish. 

B.V. Sri Pranav, 22, a media student and content producer has also been receiving calls and messages from BRS and BJP. “Even though this happened during the GHMC elections too, this time the callers were more involved and doing direct marketing of particular party,” he said.  

A few numbers from this massive pool have been reported on Truecaller and go by the names of ‘School of Politics’, ‘Vote kise dena hai spam call’ and ‘Election survey app’.



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