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Demonetisation Survey Limits the Range of Feedback that can be Provided by the User

Posted by tiwari at Nov 24, 2016 02:50 PM |
The government has faced increasingly targeted attacks by the Opposition and the public on the merits of the demonetisation move carried out a fortnight ago. In an attempt to placate this ire and to create a feedback loop that directly engages with the public, the government has decided to conduct a mass survey to gauge public perception. The survey is hosted on the Narendra Modi mobile application that can be found on the Android and iOS app stores. This article will attempt to analyse the mobile application by looking at the design principles followed in the survey and the scope given to survey takers to express their true opinion of the demonetisation move.

The article was published by First Post on November 24, 2016.

At the time of writing, 90 percent of respondents expressed the feeling that the government's move was 'brilliant/nice'. However, one must look into the merits of the survey and its limitations to understand the true value and nature of the results of the survey.

The first step required in order to take the survey, is downloading the application itself, which forces the user to automatically grant access to Contacts, Phone and Storage functions of their phone. While there are ostensible reasons for these permissions, (sharing the data from within the application, storing downloaded information, etc.) unless the user is running Android 6.0 or above, the user doesn’t have a choice in giving these permissions. This leaves the application with the potential to collect the entire phone book of the user as as well as access any files stored on the user’s device. This is independent of the survey and provides a large scope for massive data collection from any user just choosing to install the application in the first place. It is easily possible to create a version of the application that carries out a vast majority of its current functions without these permissions and the government (along with the application developer) should endeavour to do so at the earliest. In the alternative, they should have a clear and distinct privacy policy that informs users of the data collection and its possible use.

The second major step required to take the survey is the long and tedious registration process, which requires all sorts of details with massive privacy implications. This includes the name, email ID, phone number, residency details, profession and interests, all of which are compulsory fields. Why all of these details are necessary to take a supposedly simple survey and what possible use this information can be put to by the government is both unclear and problematic. It is also possible to register using Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites where there is a varying standard of equally private and unnecessary information that is being collected by the application from these websites. There are no privacy notices or consent forms that govern this information collection nor is their any indication of how this information will be put to use beyond the scope of the survey. The generic, standard form privacy policy (less than 10 lines long) on the Narendra Modi website is hidden at the bottom of the application download page (not in the application itself) and leaves a lot to be desired to safeguard user interest.

Once the registration is complete, the user is presented with the survey, which has a total of 10 questions of 3 broad categories. 6 of these questions have multiple choice answers, 3 of them have a sliding rating meter and 1 question has general comments/suggestion page.  The article will now look at these categories and analyze the design of the questions, the extent of the choice they give to the users and finally if the survey has a coercive or limiting effect on the feedback that can be given by the user via the application regarding the demonetisation move.

Choice limiting multiple=

Choice limiting multiple choice questions.

The first category of questions, the multiple choice questions (MCQ), have varying degree of choices that the user can select from. However, regardless of the extent of the choices, their exact nature is severely limiting and makes it almost impossible to express a truly negative opinion of the survey. This is done in two ways, first the explicit restriction of choices and second the more subtle negative colouring of responses by cleverly phrasing questions. An example of the explicit restriction of choices can be seen in Question No 7. “Demonetisation will bring  real estate, higher education, healthcare in common man’s reach” which has three options, “Completely Agree, Partially Agree and Can’t Say.” There is no option to disagree with the paradigm set by the question and neither is there an option for the user to further explain or elucidate upon the answer, if he/she choose Can’t Say as an option. This also means that there will be no answers that will have “No” as an answer to the fairly open ended question, which can have a myriad of responses. The same can be said for Question No. 6 regarding the demonetisation move’s effectiveness in curbing illegal activities to which, once again, “No” is not an answer, with “Don’t Know” being the best a user disagreeing can do with the survey question.

The second, more subtle aspect of the MCQ questions are questions that serve as bait to demand a positive answer, which can be used to later bolster the survey's results in a positive light. For example, Question No. 1 reads “Do you think Black Money exists in India” and Question No. 2 reads “Do you think the evil of Corruption & Black Money needs to be fought and eliminated?” both of which have simple “Yes” and “No” as the only two possible responses. These rhetorical questions, which demand a positive answer, provide almost no aspect for the user to subtly or explicitly disagree with motivating factor behind the demonetisation move. The placement of these questions and the lack of choice in responses that can be given to them leaves huge potential to tilt the survey results in the favour of the government’s move. For example, you can’t simultaneously agree that black money is a problem and think the demonetisation move is a bad idea, simply because you can’t express that view in a single question within the survey.

Positive bias driven multiple=

Positive bias driven multiple choice question.

The other two categories of questions do not suffer from the overt problems of encouraging positive bias that the MCQ questions do but leave a fair bit to be desired in their outlook towards individuals who disagree with the move. In the sliding rating meter questions, there are strong visual cues that hint that disagreeing with the demonetisation move is a negative, undesirable idea. They do so by using a large, danger red frown as the icon for Question No. 5 that asks for the survey takers opinion on the ban on old 500 and 1000 rupee notes. The same goes for Question No. 3 that deals with the general moves of the government to tackle black money. This makes any opinion or answer that disagrees with the validity of the move an answer that is portrayed in a negative light. Similarly, the general comments/suggestion section in Question No. 10 is the only place for anyone to express a negative or non-concurring opinion, which there is no way to measure statistically in the overall survey results and will mostly likely not be counted in the final survey results.

Visual cues.

Visual cues.

All of the above points clearly show that the design of both the Narendra Modi mobile application and its survey have huge potential for coercing a biased viewpoint upon any  survey taker and ensure that it is almost possible to express a stark, negative opinion against the demonetisation move via the survey. This can and should be remedied by the government to allow for a more open, conducive and critical discourse to take place regarding the move among the public. It is only when such opinion is allowed to exist in the first place, that the government can understand, engage and respond to the various valid critiques of the move. The chilling effect that would take place in the current form of the survey would be counterproductive to the original intent behind its creation, which was to create a direct constructive feedback loop between the public and the government.