Cyber experts fear project may pose security risk

The Election Commission of India (ECI) on Thursday said it has decided not to pursue a voter facilitation service proposed by Google for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Google had made a presentation to the Commission, proposing to make available free online voter registration besides making available details of voter card numbers and polling station location.

“Google made a presentation to the Commission for electoral look up services for citizens to help in the efforts of the Commission for better electoral information services. However, after due consideration, the Commission has decided not to pursue the proposal any further,” the Commission said in a statement on Thursday.

Second instance

The proposal from Google had drawn criticism from some cyber experts who said that the project could be a potential security concern in the light of recent expose of how US Government was secretly accessing user information using platforms such as Google and Facebook.

Reacting to the Election Commission’s decision, Google said that it does not intend to make a voting registration tool for India. “It is unfortunate that our discussion with the Election Commission of India to change the way users access their electoral information that is publicly available through an online voter look up tool, were not fruitful. Google will continue to develop tools and resources to make civic information universally accessible and useful, help drive more informed citizen participation, and open up new avenues for engagement for politicians, citizens, and civic leaders,” said a statement from Google.

Google has already helped governments in several countries, including the Philippines, Egypt, Mexico and Kenya. “We had some suggestions as to how the ECI’s voter-registration tool could be improved, based on our own experience with making products that are easy to use,” a Google India spokesperson said. This is the second time that a project proposed by Google has been declined by Government agencies.

Mapathon

Last year, a project called Google Mapathon had to be withdrawn after the Survey of India raised security concerns. Mapathon was a competition organised by Google to encourage people to identify places of interest on Google Maps and hence improve the quality and usefulness of Google Maps. The competition ran into trouble after the Survey of India registered a police complaint against Google for not taking prior permission for the competition and for mapping vital areas and placing their map information in the public domain.

But the Internet giant has had some success in bringing its technology for civic information projects in India. For instance, the Archaeological Survey of India has partnered with Google to create 360-degree online imagery of 100 of India’s most important heritage sites, including the Taj Mahal, Khajuraho, and the Ajanta and Ellora caves.

ronendrasingh.s@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on January 9, 2014)
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