In the recent past, there was news that an app called ‘Tek Fog’ has hassled many female journalists on social media. It is alleged that the secret app hijacks Twitter and Facebook trends, takes over inactive WhatsApp accounts and manipulates public opinion.
When we spoke to a Mumbai police officer about the Tek Fog incident, the officer assured the investigation in the said case if victims come forward and register a case. Meanwhile, Maharashtra Minister Satej Patil appealed to journalists from Mumbai to come forward to officially file a complaint in the Tek Fog app case. He requested the scribes to come forward to officially file a complaint.
The Editors Guild of India ‘(EGI) on the other hand condemned the continued online harassment and organised trolling of women journalists and demanded the government to take urgent steps to dismantle such “misogynistic and abusive” digital ecosystems. It claimed that most of these attacks were targeted at those who were outspokenly critical of the government and the ruling party.
An investigative report on the news portal ‘The Wire‘ had claimed that people associated with the ruling BJP’s IT cell were using the app to take control of inactive WhatsApp accounts, were sending messages to frequently contacted numbers, and hijack trending topics on the social media platforms. Citing the investigative news report, the Editors Guild of India urged the Supreme Court to order a probe into the use of the Tek Fog app to harass women journalists with abusive tweets in view of allegations that influential people linked to the ruling party may be involved.
“The Editors Guild of India condemns the continued online harassment of women journalists, which includes targeted and organised online trolling as well as threats of sexual abuse,” it said in a statement on Tuesday. What is further worrying is that most of these attacks are targeted at journalists, who have been outspokenly critical of the current government and the ruling party, to silence them,” the EGI said.
In its report, The Wire laid bare “an extensive and well-funded network” built around the Tek Fog app which steals unused WhatsApp accounts to send out toxic messages to targeted journalists, it noted.
“The purpose of these deeply hurtful messages was to instil fear in them and to prevent them from expressing themselves freely and going about their jobs,” the EGI said, adding, “According to the reports, several women journalists were subjected to thousands of abusive tweets.” The guild also took note of the recent instances of online “auction” of Muslim women, which included the journalists critical of the government, on two open-source apps on the GitHub platform.
Though law enforcement agencies have arrested those supposedly behind such apps, there is a need for further investigation to ensure that all those behind such despicable acts, even beyond those arrested, are brought to justice, it said.
“The Editors Guild demands the government take urgent steps to break and dismantle this misogynistic and abusive digital eco-system and thorough investigations are carried out to identify and punish the culprits and entities behind it,” it said.
What is the Tek Fog app?
The app was allegedly used to steal trends, post fake news, steal data of critics to harass them and manipulate public opinion. A report in The Wire said the app hijacks Twitter and Facebook ‘trends’, and misuses ‘inactive’ WhatsApp accounts for targeted harassment.
Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate has urged the Supreme Court to take suo motu cognisance of Wire’s report as the app targets Indian citizens and hurts the very foundation of our democracy. She alleged BJP is obviously hand in glove with Tek Fog.
Meanwhile, Maharashtra Minister Satej Patil has slammed the Union IT ministry for silence over the misuse of the highly sophisticated and secret Tek Fog app.
How to protect from secret app
While talking to Mirror Now, cyber expert Ritesh Bhatia said that Tek Fog is not really an app that can be downloaded from the play store. He said this tool (app) only operates from a particular area.
“After reading this (The Wire) particular report, all I can tell you is that such things are possible. And right now, we don’t have much information about it as this is not an app where we can go and investigate and check out its details. Instead of saying hacking, I would rather say that it takes over inactive WhatsApp accounts, make something trend so much,” said Bhatia.
He added, “There are two things. If we talk about the inactive accounts. Many times, people just take a particular number and then give it to their maids or drivers who may not be using WhatsApp at all. So here we need to understand that all these numbers are actually protected and we need to create awareness about not sharing an OTP. For example, somebody calls up my maid saying there is an issue with your phone or the SIM and he is sending an OTP, then she needs to be extremely careful about it. So, awareness needs to be created by all of us. Secondly, we are in an era where you cannot trust what you see, what you hear or what you read and you need to cross-verify it.”