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Something strange came to my attention today. An otherwise anonymous Twitter profile, but it had an Aadhaar UID number in the place of the name. The profile said the person was a IITian, a Brajwasi, Swayamsewak, BJPite, Gaurakshak and slave of the Indian state. Oooookay.

After speaking and tweeting and writing critically about the Aadhaar (as well as the Modi government), finding Modi supporters who will go to any extents, however insane to defend whatever he does has sort of started looking like a normal occurrence.

I believed that the Twitter handle was challenging those who claim that Aadhaar to be vulnerable to hack it and prove it. After all, Aadhaar's greatest fake troll profile, run by Sharad Sharma himself had once tossed out a number saying it was an Aadhaar number as a challenge. It wasn't inconceivable that another person would pull a similar stunt.

And honestly, after the brazen arguments the government had made in court to deny Indians a right to privacy, I was pisssed enough to want to show someone just how far a person could go with an access to an Aadhaar number. So, the first order of the day was to check whether the number was an actual Aadhaar number. For those who don't know, this part is easy. UIDAI will do it for you without giving out too much identifiable information without authentication. The number was real.

Okay, so that raised the stakes a bit. Someone's UID was out there. You read "gourakshak" on a profile and given the sort of news making headlines on a daily basis, you want to make sure at the very least that it is their own identity they are compromising and not some hapless other persons. So I decided to find out who he was. It was fairly easy to find his Facebook profile. That gave me his name and surname. Searching for that name and surname along with "Uttar Pradesh" (from the UIDAI website in above screenshot) got me one potential hit on a relatively less known networking site.

I now had an email and phone number. The last three digits of the phone number didn't match those on the UIDAI website - last digit was different. As far as phone numbers go, a non-match is a non-match, but I remember making a note of it. I plugged the number I had into truecaller. That number gave me a domain name as his website.

The .in TLD doesn't offer privacy - I know this as someone who owns .in domains. So the chances were good that the information he provided the registrar while booking, was public. So I checked the whois data of that website, and voila. I had a phone number for him with three digits that matched the UIDAI website, as well as an address. Incidentally, it differed from the first number by only one digit.

Truecaller showed his name for the second number as well. This isn't a careless man. This phone profile hardly had much public information and it was used for what you'd call digital assets - ownership of a site, ownership of digital identity. The other seems to be the one for more casual use. But he'd made a big mistake using it for buying a domain that didn't protect his contact information.

How far can a person go with this information? I don't know. Available information suggests very very far, with some skill and tenacity. But it was about as far as I was willing to go to make a point about an irritation on Social Media. So far everything I had accessed was publicly available information, only collected from various sites and the address and three digits of the phone number matching that gave me the verification of the anonymous profile was publicly available information. The government may not believe citizens have a right to privacy, but I do, so I did not proceed further. I had all this is in less than 15 minutes of idling around on my computer. No major effort needed.

I may have drawn an ethical line, but I wasn't done being irritated with the foolishness and decided that at the very least, a good scare was in order. I would ask him why he had put that number there, and if he issued a Sharad-like challenge to hack it, I'd reply with partial data for his personal information to show how easy it was to know his Aadhaar number and the phone number linked to it and given the straight matches in data, I wouldn't be surprised if the address was correct too.

So I asked him. And I was in for the shock of my life. You may read the Twitter conversation that followed from this tweet on Twitter:

Suffice it to say, this man is batshit crazy. He is also probably the only Modi supporter I respect. He believes in Modi, but he is alarmed about several of his decisions and is definitely against Aadhaar. He is being forced to link his Aadhaar to everything, so in a protest of extreme compliance, he is attaching his Aadhaar to his identity EVERYWHERE. Twitter included. As you see in the thread, once I realized what he is doing, I was uncharacteristically polite with him. Because damn hell, if this isn't a Gandhian Satyagraha being done by a bhakt no less. Talk of the mind benders Twitter can throw at you. Long story short, I tried and failed to convince him to protect himself. I even told him the information I found out about him and how easily, but he did not relent.

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." - Mahatma Gandhi

Done ignoring him, laughing at his folly, fighting to convince him, I had to concede he won. So I am now helping make sure his sacrifice does not go in vain. Yep. Let history note this moment, I'm openly supporting the actions of a staunch supporter of Modi - of all people.

Here is his explanation for why he is doing this. I hope the Modi and his cartel realize the kind of faith gullible people invest in them and try to serve citizens honestly instead of this digital colonization being imposed on the country without regard for individual or national safety.

I am an IITian. I studied Computer Science & Engineering for about half a decade at IIT Kharagpur. I thereby am quite initiated into the innate nuances and implications of the universe of computing. However my personal convictions took me to serve my homeland in Braj - the land of Sri Krishna - where I have been fighting relentless battles to protect, preserve and restore the heritage associated with Krishna's pastimes.
 
I have been chased by mining mafia on gun point for resisting their attempt to decimate the heritage hills of Krishna frequented by millions from across the globe; have been wounded by encroachers in our bid to transform sludge tanks back to their natural splendour; have been extended death threats by the goons of religious organisations for pressing the practice of the precept; have been booked under various malicious sections of the IPC by errand officials of the state who couldn't respond to the intellectual contest thus posed. I have been a fighter who has put my entire self to risk to bring home a point. So I don't fear anything.
 
I do revere Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have immense respect for his sincere hard work, original thinking and political gravitas, but am getting extensively alarmed with his inordinate push for policies, projects and platforms without mulling over their far reaching implications both internally and internationally. Developing India within a single generation is a laudable vision, but can it be advanced at once by pushing the simpleton citizenry of this country to a precipice, remains a perpetual concern for me as a die-hard nationalist, developmental professional and technical insider.
 
Aadhar is one such platform which never had had enticed me since inception. I have seen it as an abrogation of personal liberties in consonance with Gandhi's discomfort of carrying a fingerprinted ID paper while being in South Africa. Gandhian protest of those times sufficed with the doctrine of Passive Resistance and mass scale Civil Disobedience. But the dynamics in an ever inter-connected information age call for a different set of techniques to protest the supposed wrong doings on the part of powers of the day where citizens are being robbed off their basic liberties by a host of sinister but smart machinizations. You can only offer a creative resistance to such an oppression which does unfurl itself in ennobling eccentricities and eclectic excuses.
 
I thereby have chosen to 'purge' this all pervading monster of Aadhar by laying it open in the public domain. I chose this 98th Anniversary of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak's death as it's somewhere the death of the ideal of Swaraj which he propounded and charged up the nation toiling under the clutches of British tyranny. The Aadhar tyranny is not going to be any different, it would be even worse.
 
If this is the ID, which would ensure my very existence, let it be out in the open. Let I surrender and forfeit my social identity of my name, surname, caste, religion et al and simply graduate to this all powerful ID. If this ID is required to make India a surveillance state, I am all out eager to wear a badge to this effect and to take a gps tracer injected in my blood stream so that the agents of the state can keep track of me in real time - What all I do, how much I do, how much more productive I can be.
 
I am all out to surrender myself as the Slave of Indian State, a condemned inmate who has got no rights & liberties. Let this Creative Resistance of mine be explicitly known to the mandarins of the state whose fetish for power is incessantly insatiable. Let me persecute & purge my own self dignity which was dearer to me more than my physical life for this incessant striving for a supposed national transformation. I invite the Indian State and all its actors to pounce upon me and squeeze out the minutest strands of self-pride, honor and self-respect left in me. I am after all an inmate of World's largest prison called India. I am all out to celebrate this. Are you game?

~ Raghav

10

At around 830 pm on Monday, Nov. 21, my phone was stolen from me. The incident occurred at the crowded Saket Metro bus stop, while I was inside a feeder bus and the thief outside a window. By the time I could get off the bus and chase him, he had disappeared in the crowd. I looked around for a while before returning home, determined to do all I legally and possibly could in such a case, but feeling hopeless and dejected.

Primary concern, ensuring security

I filed an e-FIR, used Android Device Manager to try and locate the phone, placed a request to erase data with the Manager as well as my office IT service center. I knew that I had logged out of banking apps and they could not be accessed without MPins, but the PayTM app had login details saved. So I tried to lock my PayTM account via their website. Shocker: to verify my login they needed me to enter, apart from my e-mail/phone number and password, an OTP which I could only receive via SMS or call. I wondered why they could not e-mail me the OTP as well, which is standard practice in 2-factor authentication. I then used their customer care page to request a block on my account. I received an acknowledgement of this request almost instantly, (940 pm, Nov. 21, query #10133775). However, I received no reply, so I took to Twitter (1159 pm, Nov. 21):

Next morning, I see no response to my e-mail, but see this response to the tweet (735 am, Nov. 22):

So I sent them another e-mail request which was again acknowledged (0904 am, Nov. 22, query #10152004). Again, no reply, even by the evening, so I reply to their tweet:

This tweet, unsurprisingly, did not get any response. In the meanwhile, I had not only got a replacement SIM card from Airtel, but also had the SIM cards activated within the estimated time of 4-6 hours, despite being told that there may be a further delay as my number had been barred due to filing the FIR. I was thus able to receive the OTP now via the on call option (SMS services took a further 24 hours, as estimated, to get reactivated), and logged into PayTM.

It took me less than five minutes to change my password, and also log myself out of all devices. But I had to wait nearly a full day to do it because of the infuriating lack of response from PayTM. Compare this with the speed of transactions on PayTM. If you had to wait 22 hours for your PayTM wallet to be recharged, or if PayTM took 22 hours to pay your Uber cab fare, they would not remain in business very long, would they? So why do they assume they can take their own sweet time about customer service?

I quickly used up the balance in my PayTM wallet in order to close the account. I waited for a day to ensure those transactions did come through, and then tried closing my account this evening. Surprise, surprise. There is no option on the site to close your account, not even among their myriad customer care options. My requesting customer care to do so got me the no-less-surprising response that "Paytm account cannot be deleted, but we can block it for you please help us with the mail form your registered email id stating the same." Bank accounts can be closed, social media accounts can be deleted (I just deleted my WhatsApp account this evening, in under 5 minutes), but a PayTM account cannot be deleted. Why is this so?

Again, for a digital service, PayTM's frankly ridiculous, repetitive insistence on e-mail confirmation is nothing short of painful, especially given that there is NO guarantee your e-mail will actually merit a response from them, as so amply demonstrated by this experience.

Update: @Paytmcare chose to respond to this story via both tweet (0242am, Nov. 24) and e-mail (0615am, Nov. 24). The tweet asked me to check my email with reference to the request for closing my account (query #10291894). Only, their reply was to my e-mail of Nov. 22 (query #10152004). Not only did they get this mixed up, their response was on how I could get a new mobile number updated in my account while my old number was inaccessible - whereas my query had been about blocking my account. At this point, I could only conclude that PayTM's customer care is, in addition to being poorly managed, is also poorly trained to respond to customer queries. And yes, PayTM has not yet confirmed that my account has been blocked, as of 0925am, Nov. 25.

For those interested, I have Storified the full exchange with @Paytmcare on Twitter, and my tweetstorm on the overall experience, here:

https://storify.com/godavar/a-misadventure-in-digital-dystopia-my-paytm-story

P.S. the image for this post is a fully deliberate reminder of the fact that PayTM chose to be cheerleaders for the disastrous #demonetization in India.

 

12

This post explains Net neutrality and the challenge facing it in India for all of you who can't exactly figure out what is going on. This is not intended to be comprehensive, but it gives you the bare bones of the issue and ideas on how to find out more to form your own opinion.

Net Neutrality is the idea that internet access not be manipulated to favor some websites over others. Unfortunately the user will still be limited by the internet package they purchase. Let us be upfront.

So why, if you don't have a website is this debate important to you?

When you surf the internet for entertainment or information or engagement, your freedom is at stake when you are manipulated toward using some sites over others. While some deals are transparent - in the form of packs - "100 MBof Facebook data free with 100MB 2g" or whatever, other deals may simply manifest as one website opening rapidly while another is agonizingly slow. So, your tendency to go with whichever is ready fast plays out over hundreds of thousands of users. Some sites make a windfall from your unintentional bias (that has been induced by technology) while others may become extinct. Do you intend to be biased?

So what if I am biased? I like fast websites, and they made the effort to be fast for me.

Not exactly. Throttling is more like other websites being made slower. But there are tangible disadvantages to you too. Let us begin with saying that there is no such thing as a free lunch. When Flipkart invests its money to get you on their site, it only does it because it earns more from your visit. When your network ties up with one operator, it is essentially like the taxi driver who takes you to the "cheapest hotel" and earns a commission for bringing you. You have nothing more than the driver's word that it is the cheapest.

If you are looking for a laptop and get an array of prices from Flipkart fast, while its competing sites will load agonizingly slow, chances are high that you miss finding the cheapest option, because you will be bored surfing slow sites while one blazing fast one is tantalizingly close. The difference in the laptop costs would probably buy you several data upgrades that could let you surf and find the best choice.

But I don't buy online.

How about Facebook (which has a history of offering user data to governments) being the only social network you can use because it is fast and even if you are willing to use a safer one, all your contacts are on Facebook, because it is fast.

What happens when you have to buy data packs and what looked like a FREE Facebook pack becomes a collection of 100MB packs each coming with something else free? One for WhatsApp, one for Google, another for youtube.... Would it be cheaper, really? It isn't cheap while you get the "free Flopkart" either. Only less visible, because you will easily use up the 100MB non-Facebook data and you're getting only one pack.

[tweetthis]Is "Free" really free? #NetNeutrality[/tweetthis]

What is the price we pay for free packs?
What is the price we pay for free packs?

Would the cheap packs still be free if you purchased them a-la-carte and added sites you use often one by one - for a price? You'd have to, because using them normally would give you the slow versions or be costly if you use them a lot. How many sites do you use in a month?

What if you are an activist or blogger?

If you get a whim to start a blog, you can just start one today. Without Net Neutrality, your blog would be like the tree that fell unseen, unheard - did you even make a blog if no one reads it? If people get bored waiting for it to load and find something better to do? This page loaded in 2 seconds. If it loaded in 8, would you have waited to read something that says "pay attention here"?

There are hundreds of blogs starting daily. Causes. Initiatives. Businesses. Someone finds a problem with degradation of environment in their area, starts a website to converge resources and information to fight it. Today, if you want to start a website, you buy a domain name that costs about Rs.300 for the first year and some webhosting space and you're in business. If you are like me, you already have a server and one domain name later, you add a new website to it. New initiative launched for a net cost of Rs.300 and some effort. What if all these people would be seen normally worldwide, but achingly slow in India, where their target audience is?

Or, the cost of starting a website just went up to Rs.300 + hosting + Airtel hafta + Idea hafta + Vodafone hafta...... 20 operators later, and most of your website running cost would be about PREVENTING artificial interference from driving away your visitors instead of whatever you are trying to do. Or, of course you can pray that all your visitors have the patience of a saint.

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles="true"]Without #NetNeutrality most of the cost of website would be in preventing it being silenced by paying off providers[/tweetthis]

When the Net Neutrality debate was raging in the US, activists had organized a day when websites participating in the protest deliberately slowed down their websites to show people what the internet would be like without Net Neutrality. It was the 10th September - day after my son's birthday. I will remember it for a long time, because almost none of my visitors read a second page on any of the six blogs I had activated it on, on that day. From thousands of pageviews, that day was a few hundred. Who'd want to read another page on a site that just.wont.load? I did it deliberately. This would become my reality unless I was willing to shell out money for faster access.

There is a protocol coming up. Http/2. It is already released of sorts. Google and big sites implement it. By the end of the year, a very popular server called Nginx will be implementing it. Sites worldwide will become much, much faster. Except for sites that won't pay these middlemen - in India.

The Telecom industry has been showing huge profits.

This isn't about not being able to afford. It is about exploiting a ready resource for the profit of some cronies. I have said this before, during the debate on FDI and I say it now. We are not used to thinking of the Indian population as a national resource. Yet, if you can harness something that earns you a rupee from each Indian a month, you'll earn a cool 1.2 billion every month. Whether it is by opening the market so foreign companies can profit, or luring citizens to services you make deals with, so those services earn from it. And make no mistake, even if you buy nothing on Facebook, write nothing, even checking your notifications loads pages and earns Facebook ad revenues. Notice how the notifications are designed so that you can NEVER make out which post got the like from your friend till you actually click the link to find out. That's a page load.

I am not trying to be paranoid or even grudge anyone advertizing revenues. Only pointing out that your convenience is not the goal, the goal is revenue. But it wastes YOUR time. But other services that may be way more user friendly will not be able to compete with a network promoted by every telecom operator in the country. Even if you are willing to risk a slower network, people you network with will likely not.

In other words, this is a manipulation, and for all the claims of "giving Facebook free", as Rajesh Mathews put it, I have yet to come across a single free data pack on any mobile provider's website. You have to purchase data, and you get their crony for "free", which will be recovered from your hide in other ways.

Data is data. What you use it for is your business. When you purchase data, it is being sold because it is profitable selling it. The idea that existing data is not profitable and hence principles of equality must be ignored is discrimination and illegal.

The idea that there isn't enough spectrum and therefore existing services that are ALREADY MAKING MASSIVE PROFITS can hold India's internet hostage for their own windfalls is plain and ugly cronyism, if the government allows it.

2

Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Just ask.
I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS†

Friend: What? How'd you manage that one?

Zuck: People just submitted it.
I don't know why.
They "trust me"
Dumb *ucks.

The Zuck in the above conversation is Mark Zuckerberg. And they are
talking about
Facebook.

It is a fact universally acknowledged and admitted by Facebook itself
that it sells data
of and about its users. In the movie Matrix, the machines use humans as
their power source feeding into their brains a computer-generated
dreamworld to keep them under control. Facebook's product is its users.
To keep them occupied with frivolous stories Facebook makes up
algorithms, creates filter bubbles, digs up stories from the past, makes
deleting the account extremely hard, sends SMS notifications when they
remain logged out for a while, and even influences their emotions by
manipulating what they see.

Despite all the evil sins of modern day spying networks, the control
they exert on the Web has grown to dictatorial extends that saying "No"
to their terms is becoming impossible for everyone. Yet, that is exactly
what the members of a fast growing community of diaspora* users are
telling them.

Diaspora is a free software that powers the diaspora* social network - a
nonprofit, user-owned, distributed social network. Its three main tenets
are decentralization, freedom, and privacy. Anyone can install Diaspora
on their own server (diaspora pod) and have complete control over their
data. All such pods can communicate with each other, just like email. By
nature the network is resistant to take-downs and censorship.

Diaspora and other privacy aware software like Cryptocat, TextSecure,
GPG, are real alternatives to the insecure, proprietary communication
software in the market today. But unfortunately, the number of people
who are aware of these and make use of these is incredibly small. That
is why a team of Indian diaspora users started "Diaspora Yatra", a
campaign which aims to promote diaspora* and good privacy practices.

Diaspora Yatra has completed 3 weeks in Kerala visiting schools,
colleges, libraries, and other public spaces. Pirate Praveen and
others
are holding discussions, debates, and workshops to engage
people - students, teachers, workers, advocates, all who turn up - and
to make them think about privacy.

People welcome their initiative and some do stop doing what is
convenient and start doing what is right. Diaspora yatra team are
frequently asked questions like "what happens to security if
communications cannot be intercepted by the government?" They are ready
with answers like "Does giving up privacy guarantee security?". Curious
school students wonder who gets to see their photos and who does not,
and more importantly how they can control it. Lawyers talk about whether
pod admins should be moderating the content on their pod, whether
that'll be equivalent to censorship.

These are signs for hope. People are slowly beginning to ask important
questions about privacy, security, freedom, etc. It will soon be
impossible for corporate entities to wield unfair control over what one
does on the Web. Assuming we all say "no" to unsavory practices and
stand up for an open Web.

***

Diaspora Yatra is scheduled to continue till March 6. To know more about
it, visit the Diaspora
Yatra website
or follow the #diasporayatra tag in
Diaspora.

On its 8th birthday, Twitter has announced a tool to see first tweet from their account. I was wondering why people were retweeting a 2097 day old post with a link that didn't even exist anymore.

This is not the historic old post immortalized in my first Tweet on Twitter, but it sure beats curious people clicking to read it and finding a 404 page.

I don't recall what I had written in the original post. Probably a mix of curiosity and a token announcement of trying out a new social networking platform, but I had joined Twitter with some curiosity and expectation of getting a small audience of a hundred or so people for this blog. Twitter has greeted me with open arms and 14k followers and growing.

Whatever I wrote at that time, Twitter has since given me an audience and companionship that has endured the years! I have found an interested, engaged audience, support in dark times, cheers for my joys, affection, information, learning and met so many people, I can't even imagine the person I'd be without their influence on my thoughts. Not just a social media site, but a constant stream of ideas that enriches my life daily. Twitter.

Happy 8th Birthday Twitter!!! Love you.