Selected Work

Inside the Chinese dating apps exploiting the loneliness of India’s men
Quartz | March 13, 2020

Dozens of scammy Chinese dating apps are exploiting the loneliness of Indian men outside of the Tinder-Bumble demographic. That includes India’s most downloaded dating app in 2019, L’amour. It’s as mainstream as it can get.

What happens when men sign up? How does the machinery operate behind the scenes? For Quartz, Snigdha Poonam and I report from inside this thriving industry of predatory dating apps.


India is pinning hopes on apps in virus fight
Mint | April 10, 2020

Indian public authorities are building apps—at least 17 are public—to fight COVID-19. In Mint, I wrote about the app ecosystem looking at two big products: Central government’s Aarogya Setu and Maharashtra government’s MahaKavach to explore what the apps can do, what they can’t and where we are headed when it comes to individual privacy.


The murky world of India’s fintech scams
Mint | March 24, 2020

Wallets and UPI have taken over the Indian digital payment ecosystem. The reduction of friction in payments is driving the growth of new businesses. But it is also orchestrating fraud: thousands of Indians experience digital payment frauds every day, with sums ranging from a few thousand rupees to several lakhs. Why do the scams persist? Why are we not able to find a solution?


How Modi, Shah Turned A Women’s NGO Into A Secret Election Propaganda Machine
HuffPost India | April 4, 2019

The story investigates the operations of Association of Billion Minds, BJP’s in-house secretive consulting unit that does everything from recommending election candidates to creating fake news sites and spread digital propaganda. The consultancy directly reported to the then party president Amit Shah, though the party doesn’t publicly acknowledge any links with the company. The story, based on review of company documents, cyber forensics, interviews and ground reportage, brings out previously unreported evidence how the parallel election machinery of the BJP works and gives readers a glimpse inside the opaque world of political consulting.


4,925 Tweets: Elon Musk’s Twitter Habit, Dissected
Wall Street Journal | July 31, 2018

We analysed all tweets of Elon Musk. He shares life views, rebuts critics, teases business ideas—and causes controversy.


Misinformation Is Endangering India’s 2019 Election
The Atlantic | April 1, 2019

India is facing information wars of an unprecedented nature and scale. Indians are bombarded with fake news and divisive propaganda on a near-constant basis from a wide range of sources, from television news to global platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp. In this story, we map the misinformation ecosystem.


How the fake-jobs industry scams Indians
Hindustan Times | October 10, 2017

Police departments across India, dozens of unemployed people, and placement agents all agree: online job scams are rampant. A scarcity of jobs and the anonymity of the Internet are enabling an Indian industry built around fake job promises. Why are so many people being tricked? How much money are they losing? How does this industry operate? Through the summer of 2017, a colleague and I followed two young job seekers through a fraudulent placement network in Delhi consisting of recruitment agencies, training centres, job websites and call centres until one of them gave up after being cheated of her money and the other ended up as a job scammer. Read full story here.


Why India is falling behind in the Y2Q race
Livemint | January 15, 2020

Encryption forms the backbone of secure cyberspace. It helps to protect the data we send, receive or store. Behind the high degree of confidence in the security of the most commonly used encryption algorithms, like RSA, lies an assumption: modern computers, including the fastest supercomputers, will take forever to factor a large number that is a product of two prime numbers.

That is about to change. We are heading into the era of quantum computing, the technology that will exponentially speed-up the processing power of classical computers, and solve problems that today’s fastest supercomputers can’t even touch in a few seconds.

That also includes the ability to factor large numbers, meaning the underlying assumptions powering modern encryption won’t hold when a practical quantum computer becomes a reality, which can lead to a complete breakdown of the current encryption infrastructure.

As the US and China lead the global race in quantum tech, India lags far behind. Why is that? Read the story to know more.


India’s proposed data protection act, explained
Livemint | December 12, 2019

Indian parliament tabled the “Personal Data Protection Act, 2019” in December 2019. The bill is essentially a data governance framework that forces organizations dealing with people’s personal data to relook at data management, and regulates practices to protect individual privacy and personal data. It defines what they can and can’t do.In the story, I explain what the provisions of the proposed legislation mean for individuals, organisations, regulator and the government.

Key point: the bill in the current form is a step forward to protect an individual’s data from private corporations but two steps backwards in placing safeguards from government surveillance—fundamentally hurting the premise of citizens’ privacy protection. If the government wants to empower individuals, they need to cede some of their own powers.


Fighting fake news: Decoding ‘fact-free’ world of WhatsApp
Hindustan Times | March 5, 2019

We collected data from over 2000 politics-focussed public WhatsApp groups in the run-up to 2018 December assembly elections to identify themes that get viral in India’s “fake news” ecosystem. We report three key findings.

Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/pysamarth/status/1102795624959930368


TikTok is taking over India
The Atlantic | November 15, 2019

TikTok is currently the most downloaded mobile app in India, with more than 200 million users, and it’s shaping a new youth culture in which millions of young people—in big cities and small villages alike—are trying to be TikTok’s next big star. The results are both magical and nightmarish.


Narendra Modi App Has A Fake News Problem
HuffPost India | January 27, 2019

The built-in social network of the personal mobile application of the Indian Prime Minister works like Twitter, where any user who signs up on the platform can post any piece of content (images, videos, website links). The visible lack of content moderation leaves the app as vulnerable to communal propaganda and fake news as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. While the American platforms have come under scrutiny for the presence of misleading and polarising content, the NaMo app has been off the radar.


Are India’s Electronic Voting Machines Secure?
The Juggernaut | April 24, 2019


India’s invitation to Huawei for 5G trials sparks concerns: Insufficient security safeguards plague telecom sector
Hindustan Times | December 30, 2018

Why India’s invitation to Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies to participate in 5G trials has aroused concern in security and technology establishments? Is India prepared for the telecom-related cyber threats?


Does popularity on Facebook translate into votes? Not really!
Hindustan Times | December 14, 2018

Do engagements with politicians on Facebook reflect on-ground sentiment? If we go by the results of the five states that went to polls in November and December 2018, the answer is: not so much. At least, there is no strict correlation between leaders who grab attention on social media and those who get to rule the state.


Whom can political parties reach on Facebook and why it matters
Hindustan Times | November 29, 2018

Facebook is used by 270 million Indians in the age group of 18-65 monthly, meaning political parties can reach an estimated 36% of the voting age population on the platform. Indian Facebook users, however, are skewed towards specific demographics. A Hindustan Times analysis of anonymous and aggregated data from Facebook’s advertising portal shows that the bulk of the platform’s Indian users are men, under the age of 30 and live in urban clusters. (Data as of November 2018)


Fake news and hate speech thrive on regional language social media
Hindustan Times | November 14, 2018

A Hindustan Times investigation has revealed that regional language social media platforms such as ShareChat, with 50 million registered users, and Helo, with at least 5 million estimated registered users, are rife with misinformation and political propaganda.

From blatant lies to partially true polarising content to violent hate speech, the platforms built for the “next billion” internet users face the same challenges for which American social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp are facing intense scrutiny. However, as India tightens control over misleading and defamatory content shared online ahead of state and national elections, the focus is almost entirely off vernacular networks.


Gender gap in Indian formal sector worse than global average, LinkedIn data show
Hindustan Times | November 14, 2018

The gender gap in the Indian formal sector is pervasive: at least 85% of the workforce comprises men in transportation, construction and manufacturing; in hi-tech, this proportion is around 72%, according to an analysis of LinkedIn data. Every industry sector in India employs more men than women. Moreover, the gender gap among Indian professionals is worse than the global average in every sector.The findings come from a Hindustan Times analysis of anonymous and aggregated data of around 50 million Indian professionals that have a LinkedIn account. Data was extracted from LinkedIn’s advertising platform.


Aadhaar data security debate, explained
Hindustan Times | September 26, 2018

Disagreements over Aadhaar data security and its implications for privacy continue. Whether Aadhaar is fully secure or fundamentally flawed depends on where one stands. The disagreements begin with definitions. For instance, what is a data leak? It extends to issues such as the use of biometrics for authentication and repercussions of Aadhaar numbers leak etc. Supporters dismiss as rare the instances critics highlight as Aadhaar’s vulnerabilities. In this story, I explain the arguments of both sides.


Smart user’s guide to the snooping game
Livemint | November 12, 2019

The WhatsApp-Pegasus hack has put the spotlight on surveillance abuse in India. Here’s the different ways that the government can learn about your whereabouts, and how you can try to stay ahead.


Games people play on Facebook comment threads
Livemint | April 3, 2019

I reviewed the “most relevant” comments on the 50 most commented posts shared over a six month period on 18 popular Indian Facebook pages including most followed mainstream media pages in English and Hindi, accounts of national and regional politicians, and partisan political pages to explore the dynamics of the comment thread: With the introduction of algorithmic ranking which prioritizes “engagement”, the right Facebook comment at the right time on the right page is the new gateway to mass attention on the internet.


The geography of learning outcomes in India
Livemint | January 23, 2019

There is a stark divide across rural India in learning outcomes, with better performing districts clustered in a few parts of the country, a Mint-HT analysis of two large data sets on learning outcomes show. The first data set is the unit-level data from the annual state of education report (ASER) 2016 survey, sourced from the non-governmental organization Pratham which conducts the ASER surveys. The second data set is the set of district-level report cards published by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) based on the results of the National Achievement Survey (NAS) conducted in 2017.


How privilege shapes learning outcomes in India
Livemint | January 22, 2019

While the learning deficit in schools, especially government ones, has been recognized as a problem in the country, the role of privilege in driving differences in learning outcomes often does not get the attention it deserves. An analysis of unit-level data sourced from the ASER Centre in Delhi shows that household characteristics shape learning outcomes of children much more than the type of school (government or private) children attend.


The Patchwork of Policy Working to Fend off Misinformation
Centre for International Governance Innovation | October 4, 2019

Election-oriented misinformation is one of the most pressing issues of the information age. What have governments, tech companies and civil society done to tackle this challenge?


How the BJP Used Technology to Secure Modi’s Second Win
Centre for International Governance Innovation | June 12, 2019

In 2017, Narenda Modi declared that the 2019 election would be fought on the smartphone — he was right. In India’s general election, the internet was instrumental in at least two vital aspects of the campaign: mobilizing and setting the narrative, and messaging and misinformation. I explain how.


How India voted in 2019 election? Here is what India Today-Axis My India post-poll study tells us
India Today | May 31, 2019

Has the BJP been able to bridge the urban-rural gap in vote share in the 2019 election? Whom did women support? Did caste arithmetic fail in this election? Which party got support from which economic strata? Explore detailed polling data from India Today-Axis My India post-poll survey to find answers.


Decoded: Why 2019 was a worse year for Congress than 2014
India Today | May 25, 2019

The Congress party won 52 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, just eight seats more than its 2014 tally. It’s vote share, 19.5 per cent, is almost the same as 2014. While the headline numbers show little change, a closer look at the numbers shows how the party struggled in 2019.


A Congress helping hand couldn’t have rescued the mahagathbandhan in UP either
India Today | May 24, 2019

The BJP tally in Uttar Pradesh is just nine short of its 2014 performance. Of the 80 seats in the state, the saffron party bagged 62; its ally Apna Dal got two. But could the verdict have changed if Congress was part of the alliance? Results say no. For the Grand Old Party could not even play the role of an effective vote-cutter, as Priyanka Gandhi had earlier claimed.


What did Narendra Modi talk about the most during his 2019 election campaign speeches?
India Today | May 19, 2019

I randomly selected five speeches of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in key states, broke them down into four broad themes - greetings, attacks on opposition, schemes/development works and national security - and analysed the time he spent on each topic.


Is Congress helping gathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh?
India Today | April 30, 2019

In the run-up to the 2019 election, I analysed candidate caste profiles of three major parties — BJP, Congress and Gathbandhan — to find out if the Congress party had tactically fielded candidates to cut into the votes of the BJP.


Behind the numbers: How India Today-Axis My India forecast seats
India Today | May 21, 2019

How does Axis My India forecast Indian elections? I explain the methodology of the post poll that correctly predicted 90% of the seats in the 2019 Indian general election.


Tech-Support Scams Prompt Google to Act
Wall Street Journal | August 31, 2018

Following our Wall Street Journal investigation, Google takes action to weed out scam artists who advertise on its platform aiming to defraud customers seeking technical support.


Scare and sell: Here’s how an Indian call centre cheated foreign computer owners
Hindustan Times | April 10, 2017

Studies suggest that 86% of phone-based tech support scams operate from India. A colleague and I investigated one such call center running from Gurgaon and uncovered how this industry functions.


Trolls Take Over Some Official U.S. Twitter Accounts
Wall Street Journal | May 3, 2018

The federal government’s troubles combating Russian trolls spreading fake news isn’t its only problem on social media. It is also struggling to keep track of which accounts are its own.


Think American Elections Are Bad? Indian Voters Get 1,000 Texts a Day
Wall Street Journal | May 15, 2018

How political campaigns in India are gaming WhatsApp: reaching millions of people through thousands of groups, automating broadcasts, spreading fake news and communcal propaganda through a content blackhole.


Faking it on WhatsApp: How India’s favourite messaging app is turning into a rumour mill
Hindustan Times | May 19, 2017

I expalin the dynamics that make WhatsApp a fake news machine. Remember: Medium is the metaphor and affects culture.


What every day in the Parliament looks like
Hindustan Times | August 23, 2017

Visual story: What does a parliamentarian’s workday actually look like? During the course of a legislative session, what do India’s elected leaders actually do? We created a calendar to monitor activities on every day of the Monsoon Session in 2017.


From meat and fish to vegetables: These 9 charts show how India eats
Hindustan Times | February 19, 2018

How diverse is an average Indian’s diet? Do people eat better in villages or cities? What is the most-preferred food for non-vegetarians in India? Do Bengalis eat fish more frequently than other communities in India? What is the effect of gender on food habits? Are fried food-items and aerated drinks more common in cities than villages? We have the answer.


How we get high: These 9 charts show smoking and drinking habits of Indians
Hindustan Times | February 20, 2018

Do people smoke more bidis or cigarettes? What is the most preferred drink in India: whisky, beer or wine? How frequently do they drink? Does prohibition lead to significant reduction in alcohol consumption? How does wealth affect use of intoxicants in India? We have the answer.


How India spends on health
Hindustan Times | December 11, 2017

Where Indian households spend on health? How does it compare with other countries? How much of the fund is utilised?


Gorakhpur tragedy a reminder of all that ails India’s public funds management
Hindustan Times | August 13, 2017

Whether the deaths were a result of the oxygen shortage is now the subject of an investigation, but the way one of the biggest government-run hospitals in Gorakhpur — the home district of the chief minister — ran short of a critical resource points to a systemic problem in how public finances are managed in the country.

India has limited financial resources. And almost every sector—including health, education—has been complaining about inadequate allocation of funds. And still, a huge amount of public funds remains unspent every year. I explain why.


From daily tirade to radio silence, how Kejriwal stopped Modi-bashing on Twitter
Hindustan Times | October 27, 2017

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal appears to have tamped down his Twitter tirade against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an analysis of three years of data from the microblogging site shows, indicating a shift in his social media strategy.


One chart that shows how Rahul Gandhi is challenging Narendra Modi on Twitter, winning eyeballs
Hindustan Times | October 18, 2017

According to a Hindustan Times analysis of nearly three years’ of tweets by three powerful rivals, people retweeted Gandhi in recent weeks more than Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.


Latest Aadhaar leak exposes security flaws in app developed by NIC
Hindustan Times | August 17, 2017

Crucial security flaws in the eHospital app developed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC) gave a Bengaluru-based software developer access to the Aadhaar numbers and personal details of thousands of citizens.

“eHospital was started in 2015,” said the NIC official, “People didn’t have confidence in Aadhaar…so the idea was to demonstrate the power of Aadhaar.”


Days after Jharkhand breach, govtwebsites continue to bleed Aadhaar data
Hindustan Times | May 27, 2017

According to the Aadhaar act, it is illegal to publish Aadhaar numbers on a public platform. But numerous websites continued to do so.


How do people in developing countries spend their money?
Hindustan Times | May 9, 2017

Data visualisation: The interactive chart in the story shows how poor and rich households from 92 countries spend their money across 12 consumption sectors.


Three years of Modi government: What numbers tell us about the question of job creation in the economy
Hindustan Times | May 27, 2017

When the Modi government completed three years in power, I reviewed multiple data sources and explained what we can say and what we can’t from publicly available employment data.


Despite the myth, ‘mitron’ is not Modi’s favourite word
Hindustan Times | March 28, 2017

Data can be fun: I looked at transcripts of every speech made by Modi in his official capacity as prime minister and found the words he used most often in his speeches. (It’s not Mitron!)


Opinion: IITs must not scrap departments that have low traction in the job market
Hindustan Times | August 8, 2017

While students’ placement is important — and perhaps the most crucial aspect for the majority of students — it can’t be the primary objective of the country’s premier technical institutions.


Around the world with PM Modi: Track his trips and how much they cost
Hindustan Times | May 12, 2017

Data visualisation: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has flown 3.4 lakh kilometres, which is the equivalent of going eight-and-a-half times around the world, as part of official foreign trips from 2014 to 2017. We mapped his travels.


Do numbers bear out the theory of silent Muslim support for BJP in UP polls?
Hindustan Times | April 6, 2017

Following the decisive victory of BJP in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections, the “where did the Muslim vote go” question was dominating the political discourse.

Conjectures and anecdotal explanations set aside, data available in the public domain is inadequate to provide any empirical evidence to understand whether Muslims — constituting around 18% of UP’s population — voted for or against the BJP. Here is why.


What we know and what we do not know about pollution in India
Hindustan Times | January 3, 2018

We looked at pollution data and found that country’s most polluted cities were largely in North India. We also show big gaps in air quality data.


From missing data to unreliable numbers, India’s statistical ecosystem needs an overhaul
Hindustan Times | September 21, 2017


The challenges with India’s open government data portal
Hindustan Times | September 22, 2017

The Indian government launched its data portal in 2012. But it does not fulfill all the stated goals yet.


Privacy debate, explained
Hindustan Times | August 24, 2017

A nine-point primer explaining the privacy debate.


Aadhaar gets new security features, but this is why your data still may not be safe
Hindustan Times | July 19, 2017

As the government is pushing for the Aadhaar project to register everything from infant children to bank accounts, we report on the security vulnerabilities of Aadhaar biometrics.


Govt education spending falls short of HRD minister Prakash Javadekar’s mark
Hindustan Times | February 7, 2017

Publicly available data on eduction spending shows how India’s HRD Minister got his facts wrong.


Budget 2017: What finance minister Arun Jaitley said versus what the numbers show
Hindustan Times | February 2, 2017

The budget is about policy, and the budget speech has to strike a balance with politics. How well do they match? In this piece, I place few announcements made by the Finance Miniser in 2017 Budget speech in context.


From JNU to Ramjas, can you separate fact from fiction
Hindustan Times | February 25, 2017

Take our quiz and identify facts from fiction.


How India picks its President, visually explalined
Hindustan Times | June 20, 2017


HT Women Empowerment Index
Hindustan Times | April 6, 2017

Which is the best Indian state for women? Where are women empowered? T

To answer this, Hindustan Times calculated the ‘Women Empowerment Index’ (WEI) for every state using data from the recently released National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) 2015-16.


Do police get away with rights violations?
The Hindu | September 12, 2016

India may not have enough safeguards to protect its citizens from human rights violations by the police, official data suggest. As many as 35,831 cases were registered against the police with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in 2015-16, a figure that experts say is highly under-reported. And only 94 first information reports were registered in 2015, recently released data by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) show.


On paper, electrified villages — in reality, darkness
The Hindu | March 26, 2016

The Centre claims to be fulfilling the Prime Minister’s plan for full rural electrification. But a close check of its own real-time data shows that the gap between official claims and ground reality is stark


Tracking promises of the Aam Aadmi Party: After a year, where does it stand?
The Hindu | February 16, 2016

On February 14, 2015, following the landmark victory in Delhi Assembly Elections, grabbing 67 of the total 70 seats, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – which called for ‘alternative politics’ and spoke of its commitment towards the common man – formed government in Delhi. Today, as the party completes one full year in office, The Hindu presents the AAP-Meter, where we have tracked the status of all the pre-poll promises made by AAP to the people of Delhi in its election manifesto.


Opinion: Trying and testing the car formula
The Hindu | January 12, 2016

While the Delhi government’s spirit of experimentation is to be lauded, the right lessons need to be learnt from the odd-even trial.


What ails India’s rural electrification scheme?
Hindustan Times | August 19, 2017

My ground report from Uttar Pradesh exploring the challenges confronting India’s rural electrification scheme.


Has India become more violent in the last 20 years?
The Hindu | December 11, 2016

In the last two decades, have murders increased or have they shown a declining trend? Has India become more violent or more safe? Let’s test your perception.


The race to light the last village
The Hindu | August 27, 2016

I travelled to Rajasthan and my colleague went to Uttar Pradesh to explore how the rural electrification programme is operating on the ground.


AAP’s Mohalla Clinics: A thousand promises of prompt health care
The Hindu | August 27, 2016


What hinders our fight against pollution
The Hindu | January 5, 2017

Winter has set in and pollution levels are once again soaring in Delhi. Even after a slew of measures were announced by the government, little seems to have improved. So what is it that is missing, or hinders, our fight against pollution?


What numbers tell us about open defecation in India
The Hindu | October 2, 2016


How many Indians are richer than you
The Hindu | May 3, 2016


Interpreters of Maladies: Why quacks reign in rural India
The Hindu | July 30, 2016


On the maggi controversy: How labelling cooked Maggi’s goose
The Hindu | June 14, 2015


How MPs spend their funds, explained
The Hindu | June 5, 2015


How Twitter helped create brand Modi
The Hindu | March 7, 2016


What your name says about your age
The Hindu | January 20, 2016


What’s in a name, finally some numbers
The Hindu | January 17, 2016


Sushma Swaraj, the common tweeple’s leader
The Hindu | July 5, 2016