Political Economy

Cobrapost Expose: Senior VP at Paytm Claims Firm Was Asked to Share User Data with PMO

While Paytm says there is "no truth in the sensational headlines of a video doing the rounds", it does not deny that the person in the Cobrapost video is a vice president at the digital payments company.

New Delhi: Investigative news website Cobrapost on Friday released a ‘sting’ video that allegedly shows a senior official of digital payments app Paytm claiming that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) asked the company to share user data in the aftermath of heavy stone-pelting in Kashmir last year.

The video shows Ajay Shekhar Sharma, who is a senior vice president at the firm, purportedly telling the Cobrapost journalist that the PMO asked for the personal data of some Paytm users in order to identify if any of them were stone-pelters.

When approached by undercover journalist Pushp Sharma, who claimed that he was “Acharya Atal” and that “he was there to fulfill the assignment received directly from the Sangathan under a “gupt vyavastha” or secret arrangement,” the Paytm official admitted to what appears to be a breach of privacy and a violation of the company’s own data protection policy.

Jab JK mein band huye the na pathar … toh humari personally PMO se phone aya tha kaha gaya tha ki data de do ho sakta hai ki Paytm user hon (When the stone-pelting stopped there in J&K, I personally got a phone call from the PMO. They told us to give them data saying maybe some of the stone-pelters are Paytm users. Do you understand),” Shekhar says.

Over the course of the video, Sharma also appears to, as Cobrapost puts it, “candidly admit his association with the top brass of both the RSS and the BJP.”

Paytm’s current privacy policy notes that it will not share “your personal information to any third party”:

We will not sell, share or rent your personal information to any 3rd party or use your email address/mobile number for unsolicited emails and/or SMS. Any emails and/or SMS sent by Paytm will only be in connection with the provision of agreed services & products and this Privacy Policy.

Ajay Shekhar Sharma’s LinkedIn page notes that he has been working at Paytm for the last six years, rising up from being a deputy general manager in 2012 to a senior vice president as of May 2018.

‘No truth in sensational headlines’

In a late evening statement, Paytm noted that there was “no truth in the sensational headlines of a video doing rounds on social media” but did not confirm or deny whether the person in the video was indeed a senior vice president at the company.

“Our users’ data is 100% secure and has never been shared with anyone except law enforcement agencies on request. Thank you for your continued support,” the company said in a statement.

The Wire sent a follow-up questionnaire asking whether action would be taken against Ajay Shekhar Sharma and whether the company planned on undertaking an internal probe to confirm whether Cobrapost’s allegations are true.

Dangers of mobile apps?

Pointing to the dangers of misuse of mobile apps, Cobrapost head Aniruddha Bahal said the “expose of Paytm does exactly that. It brings home the point that one does not need an elaborate arrangement of the conventional media such as TV channels or newspapers” as “a simple mobile app can achieve what the conventional platforms cannot: it can deliver the message with a blink of an eye.”

“In fact,” Cobrapost‘s report notes, “our interaction with top Paytm honchos is quite revealing in many respects, for it not only shows the company’s affinity with both the BJP government and its ideological fountainhead RSS but also shows that users’ data can be compromised.”