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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.

 

1

This blog has been mostly silent since the Lok Sabha Election defeat in May with a few occasional tweets. When I say defeat, I speak of the defeat of democracy. It may seem like an extreme opinion to many, but I did not see the methods of the party that won as respectful of either democracy or rule of law.

All that is water under the bridge. The hiatus has made it clear that my fears were extremely reasonable. It has also made it clear that criticizing the government will lead to little beyond outrage noise and impotent rise in frustration.

Over the months, several who thought I was over reacting seem to have sobered in their appreciation of "victory of democracy" others continue with their unconditional regard for the government that can dilute protections to the environment, the poor and the minorities with scant thought for the country they claim to love. One fails to understand the celebration in democratic institutions being diluted through means that bypass the participation of elected representatives of people.

It is also pointless to speak of promises broken and "U-Turns" made. There are no surprises there, except for the newly disillusioned.

To me, this has been a period of cooling down. The brief foray I had made into political commentary seems to have lost its utility. Political commentary makes no sense in the face of impunity. Without even so much as an opposition, there is no real way to force accountability on the government.

Time to get back to blogging about policies, their impact on people, social issues and more.

That is what 2015 is going to be about. Ignoring a government we are helpless against, and seeing what we can do to empower ourselves and understand issues and how they are relevant to us to be empowered anyway.

The government has few answers to social ills anyway. What is needed is social reform, which we can achieve with determined action and proliferation of thoughts that trigger insights that uphold ideals that lead to a better co-existence.

That is the resolve. Now it is time to make it happen.

3

He was among the irritating people I knew on Twitter. His low tolerance for typos in tweets meant that every few days he set my teeth on edge asking me to do everyone a favor and read what I wrote before hitting "send". Considering that I use Twitter like my personal chat window with the world, I wasn't too fussed about non-manuscript quality tweets and in my usual arrogance made sure he knew it. Not that it stopped him altogether.

His penchant for objecting to hyperbole (particularly employed in condemnation of the political left) interfered with my penchant for flamboyant criticism. Any criticism of the church (and Mother Teresa) was another hot spot. But the man had depths. And a profound view of the world that more than made up for such things for an information junkie like me.

He was snide, no doubt. I do snide too. When my snubs like "you don't need a map to find the unfollow button" got sanctimonious replies about how he read my tweets and to please make time to spellcheck to read like the "eloquent tweeter" I am or if I must tweet so much I should at least do people the courtesy of not forcing them to guess incomprehensible tweets (I wasn't that bad) .... I started ignoring him. We reached a truce by communication failure.

Over the years, there were other conversations (not that these stopped). Our interests were in similar zones on human rights, intersected on and off on politics and were diametrically opposite when it came to religion, and shades grew in the relationship. I mostly tolerated him.... till he grabbed my attention with his nuanced commentary on current affairs. He mistrusted the media-politician-corporation misinformation nexus as much as I did and read statistics and reports from surveys and census and committees and was a veritable fount of information (and how to find information on something). His blog became a place to drop in on and off. His straight style of writing and the things he took interest in suited my reading preference. Random Snideness, his blog is. No really. That's the name of his blog. Actually, he was considerably less snide there.

Did I like him? Tough to say. "Like" was an irrelevant word. Each interaction with him was a toss up between whether he says something that made me itch to throw a paperweight at his head or achingly profound. If he tweeted anything in order to be liked, I did not see it. In fact, the unrepentant contrarian tweeted to provoke. Those who survived the provocation saw other layers. But I see friendship as echoes of ourself in another person, and there was plenty of that with @psnide. Deep interest in the well being of disadvantaged people, statistics as a prism for understanding the dynamics of our world, quirky sense of humor, a perverse pleasure in deliberately trampling lines we didn't believe in, strong anchoring in a personal code, relentless life-scarred loners... oh yes. @psnide and I had much in common, while being wholly different people.

There have been rough times when I found understanding and acceptance with him that I didn't, anywhere else. Not that he was one to hand out tissues or offer his shoulder, but that cactus managed to show his soft vulnerability under the thorns in a way that said. "Hey, it's okay to hate the world sometimes. People can be that way. There is nothing to understand that can fix someone else." but perversely, his rough words conveyed caring. Particularly with regard to complex and dysfunctional relationships with parents. He loved hearing about my experiences in my new home (we moved about 6 months ago to a quieter place outside Mumbai). Daily stuff like local interactions, Saturday market, bicycle rides on our quiet roads, simple life in a simple place. He resonated with that. He had said he wanted to visit, to relax and enjoy.

Now he won't come. @psnide was killed in a bike accident on 6th May 2013. What a waste of a good person.

He was from a working class family. His father, a cook died of cancer and left him devastated. His mother was a domestic worker and his relationship with her was complex at best. There were sisters. And @psnide was alone. An introvert, thinker and sensitive person, his was a lonely journey with much pain bringing the wisdom to rise above solo journeys and see the patterns of the world. He worked hard and fought to rise above his circumstances. He traveled. He became a journalist. He found his voice on the internet, modest though his audience was. He was due to start a new phase as an editor with Saddahaq - an upcoming website that sounds like it will deal with human rights issues - a subject very dear to him. It should have been a new phase of rewarding work. It isn't.

I never knew his family, but I felt that he found his heart's expression online. He trended on Twitter for all the wrong reasons for the first and only time on the day he died, when he died in a bike accident and colleagues started a desperate search for contacting his family. And Twitter indeed delivers miracles. Psnide went home to his village in Goa decades after he left - for his funeral. I wondered how much of a home it was then. Or did we have another thing in common? Being nomads in life? Belonging to nowhere and at home everywhere?

So this page is his virtual memory. He was a loner and he was prickly, but he was appreciated.

Here lies Paul Menezes or @Psnide. He matters.

Note: Psnide had briefly taken up the pseudonym Praveen Dabre.

19

Would it be possible to create some kind of network of wifi receptors all over the city? Or use an existing network (Tikona, for example) to scan for distress signals from phones or other devices? The range of a wifi being relatively small, it shouldn't be too complicated to mark a fairly accurate area to dispatch cops.

This is the hardware.

The software will be on multiple levels.

On the user's end, it can be a simple phone application. Or it can be an alarm installed in a building or it can be sent from a laptop or other computer. When an alarm is triggered, basic information on location if any from the device GPS, phone number and the call for help should be broadcast from wireless, as well as SMS. It should continue to broadcast periodically on wireless as well as send SMS if any information changes (location, phone number, whatever). The phone must automatically start recording audio and switch to silent mode.

The application in all its forms should have the ability to pick a distress signal and communicate information to the police - or, in the absence of both phone and internet connectivity, bounce the signal further and enhance its reach. It should relay any return signal back as well in a similar manner. In this manner, all available wifi enabled phones could be used to support the police network.

On the police end, receiving a signal should result in the police network being informed and dispatched as per their protocols - treating it like a phone call to the police line with address information attached. The operator must attempt to call and confirm the emergency. This call May or may not be picked by the person depending on circumstances.

Police vans must have wifi capabilities of smaller range, to be able to further narrow down the location.

Such a solution should not be too difficult to design. Wifi capabilities exist as well as mesh networking research. This will not need anything major. In fact, the more primitive, the less open to exploitation.

Such a system also has fewer chances of misuse, as it will be designed to transmit all possible personally identifying and locating information. This would be scalable as well as reproducible in other parts of India.

Basic networks once established could aid in all kinds of things.

Will refine the idea as needed, but what do you think? Good idea?

4

India blocked some 309 urls yesterday between Facebook, Twitter, blog posts and entire sites, the details of which are not known, but CIS-India who got a copy of the leaked list has put up an excellent post by Pranesh Prakash examining the information available.

In the meanwhile, Twitter is full of new born free speech activists with dire warnings about this being the thin end of the wedge and how if we don't speak up now, we are forever doomed. Well, good morning. Those of us protesting violations of Internet Rights have known this for a while now. I actually find this to be the first vaguely valid use of censorship.

The violence and exodus following the Assam riots have been found to be fuelled to a significant extent by the misuse of social media to spread disinformation and paranoia. While defaulting to its usual dysfunctional choice of censorship isn't going to be terribly effective, the government is well away from violating the right to free speech if this is a response to a National Emergency. Free Speech is not absolute. It cannot overrule laws of the land.

Many accounts on Twitter being blocked belonging to BJP supporters has given a good opportunity for the hundreds of BJP supporters *not* blocked to claim persecution. Many regular people and rights supporters are condemning the blocks. While there is nothing new about BJP discovering human rights when they can point out violations by the Congress or Pakistan (supporting Rinkle or Balochistan, outrage over Guwahati molestation, for example), if we look at this from a hoslistic view, the outrage seems premature.

Not must this political opportunism be legitimized as any kind of concern for rights. Of course, they still can protest, but to claim it in the name of the country's rights rings hollow. When the Rinkle abduction happened, hardly anyone in India gave a damn. All of a sudden, BJP supporters found it and outraged over it for a while. No change happened, they fell quiet. That silence went into attacks on those condemning RSS/BJP lack of condemnation for moral policing after the Mangalore attacks. So much for women's rights.

It we look at MP Rajeeve's efforts to overturn the IT Rules, the motion failed to pass in the Parliament. For all the noise over corruption, the BJP categorically refused to pass a no-confidence motion against the government. The JPC fiasco is another thing. Urging citizens to do the right thing is clearly a circumstantial matter.

Now let us look at the kind of content coming on the internet from many of the banned accounts. I have seen tweets portraying the Assam massacre as a Muslim persecution of Hindus in the face of all attempts to explain that Muslims were actually the greater number among casualties. When the Mumbai riot happened, a photo with a Muslim religious flag was promoted as Muslims hoisting Pakistan flag in Mumbai. I myself debunked it several times giving differences between the flags. I saw others do it. Still others actually posted images of both flags to point out differences. It is impossible that they did not know this, since replies were addressed directly to them. STILL the rumor of Pakistani flag hoisted in Mumbai by Muslims was deliberately continued even by the same handles.

I have seen and taken objection to several tweets saying that they missed Nathuram Godse today or that Nathuram Godse was the real need of India. Who is Nathuram Godse? The guy who shot Gandhi dead. There are tweets that are extremely obscene about political figures. If we can investigate and prosecute online stalkers driving people to suicide with obscene harassment, I see no reason why these shouldn't be taken action against. In my view these things come under communal incitement or incitement to harm specific people. This is not legal. This cannot come under free speech. Free Speech doesn't overrule law and order in any interpretation of it. While I don't know what content the accounts were targeted for, the chances of most of it being harmless free speech about the Assam Riots in my view are very low. While it is near impossible to ban content on the internet, I cannot hold the government wrong for trying. [Note: Firstpost has started filtering comments because of rampant abusive comments. This is not the government, but a site that thrives on comments.]

Disinformation flourishes to win sympathy. Parody accounts being blocked is one. But one of the oldest genuine parodies of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh @DrYumYumSingh is working fine. Many other parody accounts are not touched.

That said there are several grey and black areas about this, which should be clarified in the interests of transparency. One is accounts of journalists being blocked. If those journalists were spreading disinformation about Assam Riots, then shouldn't their reporting be under scrutiny? If it was a matter of promoting disinformation and helping it reach larger audiences/giving it credibility, then couldn't this be clarified with them carefulness urged rather than blocks? It is very easy to mistake information at the speed of social media, but surely journalists have shown some competence at responsible speech to get the benifit of the doubt? One of the blocked journalists @ShivAroor isn't even a handle to tweet much on any single subject and has a large diversity of often totally apolitical content. @aparanjpe is another example.

A big concern is the blocking of content that debunks the Assam riot disinformation. This counterproductive and clearly the result of low investigation of content. With this block, the blocks on journalists seem completely mistaken. There are several other problems listed in the CIS India post. The list of sites the government wants blocked seems haphazard, and it is unclear if all of them are harmful, or if they are the result of a careless search.

With it being so easy to bypass blocks, as well as the government credibility on censorship shot so thoroughly with their own actions, blocking is unlikely to achieve much given a few dedicated supporters to bring things to the attention of masses at large.

Also, while blocking specific content or blogs dedicated to harmful interests makes sense, blocking an interactive account is still a violation of free speech and completely useless once the situation has passed and the accounts are talking of something else.

The government reliance on censorship is dysfunctional and misplaced. In a country with high density of Television usage and relatively low use of social media, blocking internet content a month after the situation has passed is like bolting the barn door after the horse has escaped. Social media is what it is, and the next such crisis cannot be avoided by blocking a few accounts from this one alone.

The need of the hour is for the government to become interactive. To get those fat and lazy cyber security organizations to collect intel and provide it real time to ministers who can use all the media in one go to debunk concerning trends *before* they become problems. If there are rumors proliferating of massacres of Burma Muslims, they need to be investigated and debunked *before* a protest believes and uses that information to damage India. Where there is debunking already available, it needs to be leveraged and promoted. Where there is no debunking available, even a casual comment referring to the disinformation and asking people to stay cool while it is investigated can work miracles.

The answer doesn't lie in silencing people, but speaking with leadership in a world where everyone has voice. Also silencing abusive profiles is not adequate, there needs to be investigation and prosecution, or they simply create a new one, before the previous outrage dies down. If mental harassment, online stalking is illegal, then don't just hide it, trace a few profiles to real people and prosecute them in courts of law where they also have lawyers and what is the law can be upheld on the matter.

That said, it is important for the government to still have the right to block problem content and for protests to not paralyze government decisions when taken for the right reasons - the blocks are new and will likely be refined to include/exclude or be more effective. This is the right of the government. If it doesn't work or is not reversed when things quieten, and no explanations are provided, then it makes sense to protest for specific profiles you believe in. Better still those profiles should approach courts of law and demand compensation for defamation if wrongfully or politically blocked. Wanting a blanket reversal for what is a security measure is immature.