Listen to this article:
New Delhi: Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien on January 6, Thursday, wrote to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs for a discussion on the secret app called “Tek Fog”, saying the matter “has serious ramifications and could jeopardise national security”.
The Wire, after two years of investigation, revealed with the help of sources the existence of a secret app ‘Tek Fog’, used by political operatives affiliated with the Bharatiya Janata Party to artificially inflate the popularity of the party, harass its critics and manipulate public perceptions at scale across major social media platforms.
O’Brien’s letter said, “This application is capable of penetrating encrypted messaging platforms and secure social media conversations, in order to heavily manipulate and exploit narratives on said platforms.”
The MP, who is a member of the committee, said that the existence and usage of manipulative technologies like Tek Fog pose a severe danger to national and citizens’ security and are a violation of the fundamental rights to privacy and free speech. “It is an exploitation of public discourse, and a defilement of the country’s democracy and security,” he said.
As per the investigation, the app can hijack Twitter hashtags, take over ‘inactive’ WhatsApp accounts, and direct the online harassment of journalists critical of the BJP. Another important functionality present in the app screens was the ability for app operatives to delete or remap all existing accounts at a moment’s notice. This feature theoretically allows them to destroy all incriminating evidence of their past activity.
The full text of the letter is below.
6 January, 2022
Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs
Subject: Need for discussion on violative software application “Tek Fog”
As a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, under your Chairmanship, I write to bring to your immediate attention a matter that has serious ramifications and could jeopardize national security. On 6 January 2022, media outlet The Wire reported on the existence of a social media manipulator and hijacker software application by the name of “Tek Fog”. This application is capable of penetrating encrypted messaging platforms and secure social media conversations, in order to heavily manipulate and exploit narratives on said platforms. Over the course of its two-year research, The Wire found and verified that the application is able to do the following:
1. Hijack the ‘trending’ section of Twitter: This section usually contains organically popular conversations on the platform based on the number of retweets/shares under a topic. However, Tek Fog is able to generate artificial re-tweeting/ sharing through its “auto-retweet” or “autoshare” feature, effectively manufacturing artificial trends.
2. Capture and phish though ‘inactive’ WhatsApp accounts: Operatives can by-pass programming as well as email/OTP verification to activate dormant WhatsApp accounts and use the account’s ‘frequently contacted’ to spread its messaging. It can also create and manage
WhatsApp groups to target journalists critical of certain parties.
3. Exploit database of private citizens for targeted harassment: The application not only has access to a wide database of private citizens segregated by occupation, religion, language, age, gender, political inclination and physical attributes but also uses this to “auto reply” to corresponding users on media platforms. Often, these replies are lined with auto-generated abusive and derogatory vocabulary.
4. Erase all evidence of its activities with one click: The app’s features of deleting accounts and mentions, remapping existing accounts as well as generating new usernames allow it to effectively clean out its entire history. It can thus erase all activities and replace it with new information at a moment’s notice.
The full article can be found via the link https://thewire.in/tekfog/en/1.html.
The existence and usage of manipulative technologies like Tek Fog is a severe danger to national and citizens’ security, a violation of our Fundamental Rights to Privacy and Free Speech, an exploitation of public discourse, and a defilement of the country’s democracy and security. It is imperative that this matter be taken cognizance of, by the members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs which deals with matters of national security. I therefore request you to take up this matter for discussion in the forthcoming meeting of the Committee.
Leader, AITC Parliamentary Party, Rajya Sabha
Member, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs