New Delhi: In a surprising turn of events, Sanjay Soni, a popular Hindutva social media influencer, has been arrested from Udaipur by the Rajasthan police in relation to the Zivame.com data breach case. He has been accused of leaking women’s private data, extortion and hatching a communal conspiracy after data of the Reliance-owned underwear brand was breached.
On May 16, Soni – who goes by the handle @Cyber_Huntss on Twitter – claimed on Twitter that the data of 1.5 million Hindu women customers of Zivame had been leaked and is being sold to Islamic countries and Muslims. Many users including this journalist attempted to fact-check his message.
The original screenshot posted by Soni on May 16 carried censored personal details of only two women, who he claimed were Hindu. Tagging BJP leader Kapil Mishra, he wrote,
“Dear @Zivame, 1.5 Million Hindu girls’ details’ compromised which includes name, number, address and order details. And all details have been shared to muslims already. Do you want because of your unsecured servers hindu girls should get affected? Guy’s, advocate in my following list can you file a case on @Zivame? They compromised Hindu girls’ data. Posting sample ss. It won’t help you to stay safe now as the details have already [been] published on several muslim dominant groups…”
Based on the uncensored information and keywords available in Soni’s screenshot, when The Wire accessed the source text circulating on Telegram groups and matched it with the sample data from which the screenshot was taken, we found out that one of the two women had a Muslim name and the sample data had names and personal details of women from non-Hindu communities as well. When this journalist pointed this out to Soni, he responded with communally charged rhetoric and claimed that the screenshot has been doctored. Soni deceived his audience about the text alignment in the two screenshots. Later, other fact-checkers also pointed out loopholes in Soni’s claims.
Text alignment changes when the aspect ratio of the screen changes. You will see different text arrangements on the same website while using a PC and a mobile. Even on a mobile phone, texts in landscape and portrait mode look different. https://t.co/fWxmo6luGu pic.twitter.com/EaScvdM89X
— Alishan Jafri (@alishan_jafri) May 17, 2023
Nonetheless, Soni’s polarising claims quickly received traction and close to 6,000 shares on Twitter alone. His false message reverberated on other social media platforms as well. The National Commission for Women tweeted about it, and also sent a notice to Zivame asking the company to appear before it on May 29.
The notice read, “The National Commission for Women has taken a suo moto cognizance of the Twitter post of Kalinga Rights Forum alleging data breach by Zivame (online lingerie application) and leaking of sensitive information of 1.5 million Hindu girls to Islamic Groups through Dark Web for targeted harassment, love jihad, women trafficking and abduction.”
The Wire accessed a copy of the FIR against Soni. He has been charged under Section 66 (sending offensive information online and spreading fake news) of the IT Act 2008, and Sections 153A and 295A of the IPC. Sources at Zivame told The Wire that “@Cyber_Huntss” claimed to have access to Zivame’s database and the owner of the account, Sanjay Soni, tried to extort money from the company against these false claims. On the company’s refusal to pay, Soni tried to threaten Zivame by spreading his false, communally charged claims. Soni’s claims that only the data of a particular community was compromised is not possible as Zivame does not maintain data on the religion or caste of its customers, the source added.
The FIR copy accessed by The Wire mentions that the chain of events started with an email received by Zivame’s security team on April 24, 2023. It was sent by one [email protected], and claimed that a hacker had breached the company’s server and stolen data belonging to approximately 15 lakh customers out of a total of 92 lakh.
Then on May 16, Soni claimed on his Twitter that the private data of Zivame’s Hindu women customers has been leaked to Muslims.
Later on May 24, the hacker contacted Zivame.com once again, this time from [email protected]. The hacker exploited the company’s system vulnerabilities and threatened to obtain data pertaining to Hindu women, demanding money in return. This email was subsequently shared on the internet and later posted on Twitter by @Cyber_Huntss, the same Twitter account that had previously mentioned the data breach.
The actions of the hacker, who stole the company’s data and disseminated it on Twitter and the internet, have resulted in the disruption of communal harmony, according to the FIR. It notes that Soni, through his Twitter handle @Cyber_Huntss, has intentionally incited disharmony, enmity and animosity among different communities based on religion.
An advocate tweeted that @Cyber_Huntss was sending voice messages to women claiming that she is his lawyer. She said she is not his lawyer. In 2021, Soni and his brother were accused of online threats and extortion by a right-wing woman user.
मेरे संज्ञान मे आया है की मुझे खुद का वकील बता कर @Cyber_Huntss कई लड़कियो को voice message करता था।
मै यह साफ कर देना चाहती हूँ की मै कभी भी इसकी वकील नही रही। इसने मुझे zivame के खिलाफ मुकदमा करने के लिए पैसे देने की बात कही थी। जो मैंने सिरे से नकार दी थी। pic.twitter.com/BJqOXcEwVQ
— Shasha Jain (@adv_shasha) June 5, 2023
A police source informed The Wire that an alleged recent transfer of $1,000 in Soni’s bank account is being investigated. Soni has already been booked in as many as five similar cases, as per the police. Soni has made similar claims about IRCTC in the past, and the railway corporation had said there was no truth to his claim. Recently, he was accused of doxxing Alt News co-founder Mohammad Zubair and sending a pork packet to his house during Ramzan. Zubair had filed a criminal case against Soni.
Finally! Police registered an FIR against 16 twitter handles over online death threats and call for mob violence against me through their tweets. https://t.co/5PLgWCFUwO
— Mohammed Zubair (@zoo_bear) May 3, 2023
Soni’s brother said on Twitter that the charges against Soni are false and the accusers are shifting goalposts. “First they accused him of nudes, then shifted the goal post to hacking, then shifted again to the funds he received in his account & finally when they found nothing, they are accusing him of communal tweets,” he wrote.
The police are also investigating ‘Shadow Hacker’ and ‘Cyberdaaku’ for their roles in the data breach. The case of Sanjay Soni and many other such social media warriors, who manipulate their audiences with sensational and communal claims, highlights how polarised online spaces are increasingly becoming a space for crime and fraud.