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We searched but couldn’t find Tek Fog in any app store: IT Ministry

Capable of social media manipulation, WhatsApp takeovers and much more, this app has given the government a lot to answer for.

The Indian government on February 11 said that it searched in app stores but could not find any app called Tek Fog that is allegedly used to manipulate social media trends.

Rajya Sabha MPs Sukhram Singh Yadhav, Vishambhar Prasad Nishad, and Chhaya Verma had asked the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology whether there are apps like Tek Fog that are used for “manipulating online ratings in favour of certain policies and personalities by adopting fraudulent means”, to which the ministry filed a response stating:

“Government has noted the news articles about an App, namely, ‘Tek Fog’ that has been allegedly used to manipulate social media platforms. This Ministry has searched for the App on all prominent App Stores and APK Stores and could not find so called App in any of these online stores. This Ministry is not aware of any technical vulnerability that makes social media intermediaries susceptible to manipulation as reported in the news articles.”

The government had given the same response on February 4, when asked if it intends to investigate how Tek Fog can be used to hack WhatsApp accounts of citizens and for running harassment campaigns.

It’s not surprising that a highly secretive, sophisticated, and fraudulent app like Tek Fog is not listed on public app stores and it’s not a secret that apps can be downloaded on Android phones even if they’re not on app stores by obtaining an APK file of the app, which is the route operators of Tek Fog will have most likely taken. The government’s response in Parliament either shows its lack of competence or sheer unwillingness to address an issue that makes some serious allegations against the ruling BJP party.

The written response is not the only evidence of the government’s evasiveness. When Rajya Sabha MP Mausam Noor asked if Tek Fog was used to manipulate social media trends, Loganathan Murugan, Minister of State in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting of India, went off-tangent and explained how the government has created a fact check unit and has a WhatsApp number with which citizens can file complaints.

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“The quality of the minister’s reply tells us all about the quality of the BJP government,” MP Derek O’Brien, who has asked the Standing Committee on Home Affairs to take up the Tek Fog issue in the Committee’s next meeting, said.

What is Tek Fog?

In January 2022, The Wire uncovered an alarmingly sophisticated app that can be used to manipulate Twitter and Facebook trends, hijack inactive WhatsApp accounts and spread propaganda, target automated hate content towards specific groups of people, and morph URLs to make real news fake. Most crucially, the investigation alleges that the app has strong ties with the BJP party.

  1. Hijack Facebook and Twitter trends: These trending sections on the platforms, which usually contain organically popular conversations on the platforms based on the number of retweets/shares under a topic, can be hijacked artificially by the Tek Fog app, The Wire alleged. Additionally, the investigation found that the feature is used to amplify right-wing propaganda, “creating extremist narratives and political campaigns appear more popular than they actually are.”
  2. Capture and phish through inactive WhatsApp accounts: Tek Fog operatives can bypass programming as well as email/OTP verification to activate dormant WhatsApp accounts and then use to message the account’s “frequently contacted” list, The Wire found.
  3. Target specific groups of people for harassment: The Wire found that the Tek Fog app has a large database of private citizens segregated by occupation, religion, language, age, gender, political inclination and physical attributes and allows the operators to target these specific groups of people with auto-replies, a vast majority of which are abusive or derogatory, especially when the targeted group is female.
  4. Erase evidence of activities with a click: The app has the ability to delete all accounts used by it and remap existing accounts, deleting any traces of fraudulent activity, The Wire alleged.

“The potential scale, sophistication and pervasive nature of the Tek Fog operation provide unprecedented evidence of private actors engaging in the application of dubious digital practices – typically seen in totalitarian and closed societies such as China and North Korea – in the world’s largest democracy.” – The Wire

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