Netcore founder Rajesh Jain said yesterday that the company plans to combine the Voter ID card data, which is available with political parties and the election commission for micro-targeting of mobile marketing. Jain, who is a key member of the Friends of BJP, and has also backed right-leaning news website Niti Central, mentioned that the idea came to him while in Delhi for three weeks, “helping with the campaign”. Speaking at the IAMAI’s Mobile Marketing Summit yesterday (we were watching the live web stream), he said that lakhs of people turn up at rallies, and leave, and no one has any idea of who these people are.

His idea: “What if you get them to SMS the voter ID card number on a long code, on a number, where you can use the voter ID to pinpoint the person on the electoral rolls with are available with the party workers locally, and also available on the election commission website. The key idea here is that the voter ID plus the mobile number is the double KYC (Know Your Customer). The Voter ID has very good KYC, and the mobile number does lead to a genuine person. You get a unique geo-identity. You know who the person is. You have name, address, location, age, gender, all of that, from the voter rolls. Because of the SMS, you have a confirmation, which you can then use for continuing engagement.” This not only allows political parties to know who has attended, but more importantly, “this can lead to micro targeted campaigns.”

Jain said and we will see a lot of innovations happening on the political side in the next few months, in the lead up to the general elections in 2014. “Politics is one of the areas that tends to lead,” he said, referring to the usage of out-bound-dialers (where users got a call from the then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee), while the 2009 elections saw SMS marketing scaling – much of it from Jain’s company Netcore, and the friends of BJP.

What’s changed in 2013? “There is data available, there is large reach of digital – almost 10 times more than there was five years ago, plus a younger demography, I think can lead to a lot of innovation happening at scale.”

Jain was speaking on mobile marketing solutions, and also shared case studies from Movies Now, and a very interesting deployment from HUL, of a free mobile radio service called Kaan Khajura, in Bihar. “If you start thinking of it differently, in terms of the work that you are doing, and as an industry, as a combination of moments. A mobile stays with the person all the time. We start looking at the device that is available to us, and think much larger, about what do we want to achieve with our customers? Can we build the next media for them? Can we do micro-targeting at scale? Can we use the power of knowing where a person is at this time. Operators like Airtel are opening up their payments API. That is going to be another big capability available to businesses. Now you’ll see the next generation of mobile marketing solutions that can be built out.”

Shouldn’t Voter Information Be Private?

From a privacy perspective, this highlights the issues with how public voter information in India is: available with political parties, the election commission, and for anyone to scrape off the web. Connect that to an email address or a mobile number, and you give, as Jain points out, a host of demographic information to a marketer. Who owns this data? Shouldn’t the Election Commission have looked at privacy issues before publishing this data online? I remember finding my information (name, age and address) in an election commission PDF document online a few years ago, which I can’t locate anymore.

Now look at this from another perspective: what if, in future, the voter data is updated to link it to Aadhaar numbers? Businesses that validate a users identity can easily ping the voter database for more demographic data – that very data which the UIDAI says will not be shared without consent.

What doesn’t help, is that India doesn’t have any privacy law, and, well, governments organizations keep publishing spreadsheets and PDF’s on their websites: there’s more data on government websites than their data portal data.gov.in.

Updates: an earlier version of this post incorrectly mentioned the Indian government’s data website as data.org, instead of data.gov.in.

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