New Delhi: Even though Google had claimed that it had removed pro-Khalistani applications from its platform in November 2019 following a request from the Punjab state government, the same are still available for download, an investigation by The Sunday Guardian has revealed. Worse, as the analysis of this app revealed, it was “updated” in November 2019, indicating that it was never really taken down from Google’s platform.
Also, a website, run by the same people who are behind the mobile app, and which had come on the radar of the intelligence agencies following which it was “banned” from being accessed from India, is accessible by using easily available proxy servers. Thus it defeats the whole purpose of Government of India and the Punjab state government of keeping it out of the reach of gullible youths.
The app, “2020 Sikh referendum”, and the website, “yes2khalistan.org“, were both accessible for download and registering as on 6 January (check screenshot).
As per intelligence agency officials, both these platforms are being managed by people associated with “Sikhs for Justice” (SFJ), a UK based Khalistani group, which has been accused of inciting internal disturbance in the country. Its name has cropped up in the recent protests that are happening in and around Delhi as well.
The Ministry of Home Affairs, by its 10 July 2019 notification, had declared SFJ to be an unlawful association and had banned it for five years, saying the group’s primary objective was to establish an “independent and sovereign country” in Punjab and it openly espouses the cause of Khalistan and in that process, challenges the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India.
The Sunday Guardian reached out to the media team of Google for their response with the following queries:
1: The Sunday Guardian has accessed pro-Khalistani apps—that Google had claimed were removed from its playstore—still available for download for users who are accessing the playstore from outside India location. Is Google aware that the apps are still available to download from its playstore?
2: Google had intimated the Government of India and other state governments in 2019 that it had removed such apps. Were these apps allowed to be shared on the playstore platform post 2019? If yes then why and was Government of India informed about the same?
Despite being given a time period of 10 days to respond, no response was received from Google to this newspaper’s queries.
It is pertinent to mention that on 5 July last year, the MHA had also directed the concerned authorities to block 40 websites of SFJ. However, as the investigation by The Sunday Guardian has revealed, the most prominent of the SFJ’s website, where a user can register himself for further directions on how to take the “struggle ahead”, is still live and available for use.
Intelligence agency sources said that their power was limited only to identifying and sharing the details of such mobile apps and websites with the government. “Then the officials in the MHA and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), which is the nodal authority for monitoring cyberspace in India, take over. It is their responsibility to get in touch with the people in Google, Facebook, Twitter to fix accountability and ensure that such anti-India apps, sites and pages are taken down”, an official with an intelligence agency said.
All these social media giants earn a huge chunk of revenue from their operations in India. Google, which saw its revenues in India grow by 34.8% from previous year, earned Rs 5,593.8 crore in 2019-20. Twitter India’s net profit grew by 108% to Rs 5.8 crore, while its revenue rose to Rs 56.9 crore from Rs 43.4 crore during 2019. Similarly, Facebook’s revenue from India grew by 43% in 2019 as it earned a huge Rs 1,277.3 crore as revenue with its net profit more than doubling to Rs 135.7 crore.
In fact, experts and people aware of the technology, say that the financial value of the enormous amount of user data that these social media giants were harvesting from India, and then processing it for further use, was earning them more revenue than they were disclosing in their India operations.
“The value and importance of meta data that they are mining from India cannot be put in numerical terms. Due to the sheer huge number of users of these platforms in India, it has become a huge source of meta data for these tech giants. Government of India needs to put its foot down to ensure that these companies do not allow their platform to be used for anti-India activities”, a source who advises the GoI on such issues, told The Sunday Guardian.
It may be added that Chinese apps and mobile penetration of India, which has increased exponentially over the past decade, is mining an even richer trove of meta data from India than US platforms, and have been for nearly two decades. Such data is invaluable in the improvement of Artificial Intelligence, a vital component in warfare and which is getting deployed by the PLA in its operations against the Indian Army.