Tag Archives: india

Facebook, WhatsApp Are Dangerous

Facebook’s woes are spreading globally, first from the U.S. to Europe and now in Asia.

A landmark study by researchers at the University of Warwick in the U.K. has established that Facebook has been fanning the flames of hatred in Germany. The study found that the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, and those living in large cities and those in small towns were alike susceptible to online hate speech on refugees and its incitement to violence, with incidence of hate crimes relating directly to per-capita Facebook use.

And during Germany-wide Facebook outages, which resulted from programming or server problems at Facebook, anti-refugee hate crimes practically vanished — within weeks.

As the New York Times explains, Facebook’s  algorithms reshape a user’s reality: “These are built around a core mission: promote content that will maximize user engagement. Posts that tap into negative, primal emotions like anger or fear, studies have found, perform best and so proliferate.”

Facebook started out as a benign open social-media platform to bring friends and family together. Increasingly obsessed with making money, and unhindered by regulation or control, it began selling to anybody who would pay for its advertising access to its users. It focused on gathering all of the data it could about them and keeping them hooked to its platform. More sensational Facebook posts attracted more views, a win-win for Facebook and its hatemongers.

See also: Too Much Tech Is Ruining Lives  


In countries such as India, WhatsApp is the dominant form of communication. And sadly, it is causing even greater carnage than Facebook is in Germany; there have already been dozens of deaths.

WhatsApp was created to send text messages between mobile phones. Voice calling, group chat and end-to-end encryption were features that were bolted on to its platform much later. Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014 and started making it as addictive as its web platform — and capturing data from it.

The problem is that WhatsApp was never designed to be a social-media platform. It doesn’t allow even the most basic independent monitoring. For this reason, it has become an uncontrolled platform for spreading fake news and hate speech. It also poses serious privacy concerns due to its roots as a text-messaging tool: Users’ primary identification being a mobile number, people are susceptible everywhere and at all times to anonymous harassment by other chat-group members.

On Facebook, when you see a posting, you can, with a click, learn about the person who posted it and judge whether the source is credible. With no more than a phone number and possibly a name, there is no way to know the source or intent of a message. Moreover, anyone can contact users and use special tools to track them. Imagine the dangers to children who happen to post messages in WhatsApp groups, where it isn’t apparent who the other members are; or the risks to people being targeted by hate groups.

Facebook faced a severe backlash when it was revealed that it was seeking banking information to boost user engagement in the U.S. In India, it is taking a different tack, adding mobile-payment features to WhatsApp. This will dramatically increase the dangers. All those with whom a user has ever transacted can harass them, because they have their mobile number. People will be tracked in new ways.

Facebook is a flawed product, but its flaws pale in comparison with WhatsApp’s. If these were cars, Facebook would be the one without safety belts — and WhatsApp the one without brakes.

That is why India’s technology minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, was right to demand that WhatsApp “find solutions to these challenges which are downright criminal and violation of Indian laws.” The demands he made, however, don’t go far enough.

Prasad asked WhatsApp to operate in India under an Indian corporate entity; to store Indian data in India; to appoint a grievance officer; and to trace the origins of fake messages. The problems with WhatsApp, though, are more fundamental. You can’t have public meeting spaces without any safety and security measures for unsuspecting citizens. WhatsApp’s group-chat feature needs to be disabled until it is completely redesigned with safety and security in mind. This on its own could halt the carnage that is happening across the country.

Lesson from Germany

India — and the rest of the world — also need to take a page from Germany, which last year approved a law against online hate speech, with fines of of as much as 50 million euros for platforms such as Facebook that fail to delete “criminal” content. The E.U. is considering taking this one step further and requiring content flagged by law enforcement to be removed within an hour.

The issue of where data are being stored may be a red herring. The problem with Facebook isn’t the location of its data storage; it is, rather, the uses the company makes of the data. Facebook requires its users to grant it “a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content” they post to the site. It assumes the right to use family photos and videos — and financial transactions — for marketing purposes and to resell them to anybody.

See also: The World Doesn’t Need Silicon Valley  

Every country needs to have laws that explicitly grant their citizens ownership of their own data. Then, if a company wants to use their data, it must tell them what is being collected and how it is being used, and seek permission to use it in exchange for a licensing fee.

The problems arising through faceless corporate pillage are soluble only through enforcement of respect for individual rights and legal answerability.

If India Overcomes Its Inferiority Complex

Walmart’s acquisition of Flipkart has created shockwaves in India, with the realization that the vast majority of its $16 billion price will go to foreign investors, namely Tiger Global, SoftBank, Naspers and Accel Partners. Now Indian investors are kicking themselves for missing out on the largest e-commerce exit ever. But they have no one to blame but themselves: Flipkart tried hard to raise money locally but was ridiculed and turned away, leaving only the foreign giants to rescue it.

This pattern will repeat itself until India’s investors realize that the best opportunities are not in Silicon Valley but at home. Frankly, I sympathize with Flipkart founders Sachin and Binny Bansal because I, too, have seen the Indian inferiority complex at work.

In a talk I gave at INK India in 2014, I predicted that a billion Indians would gain internet connectivity through their smartphones within a few years, and that this would begin to transform the country. Tens of thousands of startups building health sensors, robots, drones and commerce and infrastructure tools and hundreds of thousands of application writers addressing local problems could solve not only India’s problems but those of the world.

See also: India’s Coming of Age in Digital  

I also tried educating the executives of Wipro and Infosys. When they told me of the huge funds they were setting up to invest in Silicon Valley, I warned them that no one there cared for their companies or investments; at best, they would be offered bottom-of-the-barrel deals and be left chasing rainbows. And that is largely what has happened.

I live in Silicon Valley and am a professor, not an investor. I did, however, get involved with one Indian startup, because it had world-changing potential yet was dying on the vine. Indian investors ridiculed the notion that something of such magnitude could emerge from India; all they did was waste the time of the founders.

The company, HealthCubed, develops a compact medical-grade device that provides more than 40 measures and tests, including blood pressure, electrocardiography, blood oxygenation, heart-rate variability, blood sugar, blood hemoglobin and urine protein and is able to diagnose diseases such as HIV AIDS, syphilis, dengue fever and malaria. These are the same tests that labs and hospitals provide — but for less than one hundredth of their cost in the U.S.

Simply having the lab results immediately constitutes a huge benefit in a rural health clinic. Additionally, the data can be immediately uploaded to the cloud, allowing for rapid evaluation by a remote physician. And analysis of the bounty of data thus collected will enable fresh insights into many conditions.

I rarely have a problem getting Indian executives and VCs to return my emails. Yet when I wrote to them about HealthCubed, most didn’t even respond. Ironically, the investors who did respond said the valuation of the company was too high — without even asking what it was.

So I gave up on India and advised HeathCubed CEO Ramanan Laxminarayan to register the company in Delaware and move the intellectual property to the U.S. Then I invested my savings in the company and joined the board. James Doty, MD, a world-renowned neurosurgeon and entrepreneur who founded Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, did the same. He found the technology to be more advanced and more effective than anything he had ever seen.

Acumen, a New York–based impact investment fund, also invested in the company, as did American moguls Ray Dalio, Ross Perot Jr, Bridget Koch and actress Sela Ward and her VC husband Howard Sherman. One of Silicon Valley’s most respected investors, Raju Reddy, and an alumnus group from BITS Pilani also readily supported the company.

The product is now helping hundreds of thousands of villagers in more than a hundred districts of four states of India, thanks to the Aditya Birla Group. The world’s largest NGO, BRAC, is using it to improve health and create employment in hundreds of villages in Bangladesh. Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees in United Nations clinics outside the borders of Myammar are being diagnosed with it. And it is now set to roll out in Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria.

See also: What India Can Teach Silicon Valley  

I expect that, by the end of 2019, HealthCubed will have done more than 100 million diagnostic tests; and that eventually products such as this will disrupt the U.S. healthcare system itself and will quickly spread throughout the Americas — and that India’s VCs will have another cause for regret.

That’s not to say Indian entrepreneurs shouldn’t take some of the blame. As Silicon Valley’s Hemant Kanakia said to me in an email: “Part of the problem I have observed while being an investor in Indian startups in the last six years is that Indian entrepreneurs have a short-term outlook; they want to make money and live the lifestyle of the rich. Sachin Bansal had no ambition like founders of China’s Tencent or Baidu have — of conquering the world.”

Yet even Silicon Valley was like this when its ecosystem was in its infancy. I’ll bet that as a generation of founders such as the Bansals achieves great success, they, too, will develop grand ambitions.

India’s Coming of Age in Digital

Walmart’s acquisition of Flipkart demonstrates both Indian e-commerce’s coming of age and a repetition of history.

U.S. giants will spend billions in India because they see huge opportunities, and this will produce a short-term boon for Indian consumers. When the dust settles, though, prices will rise and consumer choices will become more limited than they had been. Foreign companies will mine data and manipulate consumer preferences. They will have once again colonized India’s retail industry.

Protectionism for physical goods and services is usually a bad thing, as it limits the incentive to innovate and evolve, stifling a country’s competitiveness and productivity. India’s protected domestic companies became lethargic, offered substandard products and services at high prices, and hobbled India’s economy.

In a digital economy, though, things are very different. The value resides in the ideas, which spread instantaneously via the internet. Entrepreneurs in one country can easily learn of the innovations and business models of another country and duplicate them.

As core technologies advance, they become faster, smaller and cheaper — and accessible to everyone, everywhere. Startups constantly emerge, putting established players out of business. So, speed and execution are key to business survival and competitiveness.

Valuable competition and innovation can arise from within the domestic economy itself, without having to invite foreign companies to the table.

Technology-based industries, such as retail, electronics and distribution, that require large capital investments handicap the small players, because money provides an unfair advantage to the larger ones.

See also: Copy and Steal: the Silicon Valley Way  

The latter can use capital to put emerging competitors out of business — or to acquire them. It is what U.S. technology giants do as a matter of course.

Amazon, for example, has been losing money, or earning razor-thin margins, for more than two decades. But because it was gaining market share and killing off its brick-and-mortar competition, investors rewarded it with a high stock price.

With this inflated capitalization, Amazon raised money at below-market interest rates and used it to increase its market share. It also acquired dozens of competitors — just as it tried to do with Flipkart.

Having become the dominant player in the U.S. e-commerce industry, Amazon has its eye on India. A company that it left in the dust, Walmart, is desperate not to also lose the Indian market. Both are doing whatever they must to own Indian retail and then split the spoils between them.

That is why controls are desperately needed on this kind of capital dumping. And such controls won’t reduce competition or throttle innovation. As they did in China, they will stimulate competition and, through that, innovation.

Chinese technology companies are now among the most valuable and innovative in the world. In addition to having a valuation that rivals Facebook’s, Tencent’s WeChat e-commerce platform is far more advanced than any rival in the West.

Baidu is building highly advanced artificial intelligence (AI) technologies as well as self-driving cars. And DJI (Dà-Jia ng Innovations) has become a global leader in drone technologies. Had China not imposed controls, these companies may not have survived at all.

It is probably too late to save Indian e-commerce from modern-day East India Company-style colonization. But there are many other industries in which Indian startups can still lead the world.

See also: Too Much Tech Is Ruining Lives

With the exponentially accelerating advances occurring in technologies such as sensors, AI, robotics, medicine and 3D printing, practically every industry is about to be disrupted, and there are opportunities for Indian entrepreneurs to create solutions that benefit India and the rest of the world.

India urgently needs to wake up and protect its entrepreneurs from foreign-capital dumping. And it needs to provide incentives for Indian — and foreign — companies to invest in its startups, just as China did for its own.

Making China and India Great Again?

“Thank you for what you are doing for America; your successes have put India in very positive light and shown us what is possible in India,” Atal Bihari Vajpayee said to me in a one-on-one meeting during his visit to the White House in September 2000. He added that he would love to see Indian-American entrepreneurs return home to help build India’s nascent technology industry.

Bill Clinton and George W. Bush granted him his wish with their flawed immigration policies. The U.S. admitted hundreds of thousands of foreign students and engineers on temporary visas but did not have the fortitude to expand the numbers of green cards. The result was that the waiting time for permanent resident visas began to exceed 10 years for Indian and Chinese immigrants. Some began returning home.

Now, Donald Trump, with his constant tirades against immigrants, particularly from what he calls “s***hole countries,” is giving many countries the greatest gift of all: causing the trickle of returning talent to become a flood.

For India, the timing could not be better. With hundreds of millions of people now gaining access to the internet through inexpensive smartphones, India is about to experience a technology boom that will transform the country itself. And with the influx of capital and talent, it will be able to challenge Silicon Valley—just as China is doing.

This is the irony of America’s rising nativism and protectionism.

When I met Prime Minister Vajpayee, I was the CEO of a technology startup in North Carolina. Later, I became an academic and started researching why Silicon Valley was the most innovative place on this planet.

I learned that it was diversity and openness that gave Silicon Valley its global advantage; foreign-born people were dominating its entrepreneurial ecosystem and fueling innovation and job growth. My research teams at Duke, the University of California at Berkeley, New York University and Harvard documented that, between 1995 and 2005, immigrants founded 52% of Silicon Valley’s technology companies. The founders came from almost every nation in the world: Australia to Zimbabwe. Immigrants also contributed to the majority of patents filed by leading U.S. companies in that period: 72% of the total at Qualcomm, 65% at Merck, 64% at General Electric and 60% at Cisco Systems. Surprisingly, 40% of the international patent applications filed by the U.S. government also had foreign-national authors.

Indians have achieved the most extraordinary success in Silicon Valley. They have founded more startups than the next four immigrant groups, from Britain, China, Taiwan and Japan, combined. Despite making up only 6% of the Valley’s population and 1% of the nation’s, Indians founded 16% of Silicon Valley startups and contributed to 14% of U.S. global patents.

At the same time, I also realized that protectionist demands by nativists were causing American political leaders to advocate immigration policies that were (and are) choking U.S. innovation and economic growth. The government would constantly expand the number of H1-B visas in response to the demands of businesses but never the number of green cards, which were limited to 140,000 for the so-called key employment categories. The result? The queues kept increasing. I estimate that today there are around 1.5 million skilled workers and their families stuck in immigration limbo, and that more than a third of these are Indians.

Meanwhile, I have witnessed a rapid change in the aspirations among international students. The norm would be for students from China and India to stay in the U.S. permanently because there were hardly any opportunities back home. This changed.

My engineering students began to seek short-term employment in the U.S. to gain experience after they graduated, but their ultimate goal was to return home to their families and friends. Human resource directors of companies in India and China increasingly reported that they were flooded with resumés from U.S. graduates.

For students, the prospect of returning home and working for a hot company such as Baidu, Alibaba, Paytm or Flipkart is far more enticing than working for an American company. You cannot blame them, especially given that delays in visa processing will lock them into a menial position for at least a decade during the most productive parts of their careers.

This has been an incredible boon for China. One measure of the globalization of innovation is the number of technology startups with post-money valuations of $1 billion or higher. These companies are commonly called “unicorns.” As recently as 2000, nearly all of these were in the U.S.; countries such as China and India could only dream of being home to a Google, Amazon or Facebook.

Now, according to South China Morning Post, China has 98 unicorns, which is 39% of the world’s 252 unicorns. In comparison, America has 106, or 42%, and India has 10 unicorns, or 4%. An analysis by the National Foundation for American Policy revealed that 51% of the unicorns in the U.S. have at least one immigrant founder. It is clear how shortsighted the U.S. government has been.

With the clouds of nativism circling the White House, things will only get worse. America’s share of successful technology startups will continue to shrink, and Silicon Valley will see competition like never before.

America’s loss is India’s and China’s gain.

Evolution of Indian Motor Insurance

The Indian general insurance sector is growing at a healthy 17% a year. Motor insurance is the biggest chunk, accounting for 49% of the gross direct premiums earned (FY16), at $6.5 billion. The Motor Vehicles Act, from 1988, mandates that every vehicle should be compulsorily insured for third-party risks. With the expected growth in automobile sales (6% CAGR in the past 5 years), motor insurance sales are also expected to grow. These numbers are set to rise owing to the changing consumer profile, as well.

The legal mandate demanding the purchase of a third-party liability insurance policy compelled Indians to opt for motor insurance. It was a box that was needed to be ticked off, nothing more. However, the mandate did acquaint people with the philosophy of motor insurance. They started looking at the financial benefits associated with the policy, and the insurers capitalized on this window. Innovative offers and alluring discounts encouraged vehicle owners to look at motor insurance in a holistic manner.

Recent developments opened the gates wide, by allowing 49% foreign direct investment (FDI). The investment increased capital inflow, leveled the playing field and fostered better market penetration. Insurers now concentrate on offering innovative products, providing better administrative services and ensuring hassle-free claims.

Numbers Game

The Indian general insurance market grew from $2.6 billion to $13.4 billion in a span of 14 years, from 2002 to 2016, according to several reports by IBEF, and is poised to keep expanding.

See also: Motor Insurance: Get Back to Value!  

Warming Up to Digital Platforms

Traditional as well as up-and-coming insurance providers warmed up to going digital and created websites. Their offline activities also continued, but their online activities were future-oriented. Even though the insurers did not go all out with their digital activities, they certainly created an online presence, as it gave the following advantages to insurers as well as the insured:

  • Cost Factor

Operational costs reduced with the digital move. Customers benefitted from it in the form of pocket-friendly policies. Standardization helped insurers to service the customers efficiently and effectively.

  • Ditching the Agent

As motor insurance could be purchased online with a few clicks, the role of the traditional agent was curtailed. Simple forms demanded to-the-point information, and prospective customers filled the forms themselves, thus reducing the chances of wrong information and mitigating fraudulent activities. The service seeker and service provider spoke with each other directly, without any middleman.

  • Convenience

India was getting used to purchasing things online. From buying vegetables to searching for prospective life partners, people found a convenient alternate in the form of websites and apps. People researched about the features, fortified their motor insurance policy with add-ons and purchased or renewed their policies online, at their convenience. Features like cashless garage services made it easy for the insured to get a vehicle repaired conveniently.

  • Smooth After-Sales Service

New touchpoints enabled customers to address their grievances through social media. Insurers also considered it as a priority and started engaging with customers through platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Claim-related queries were addressed through social media platforms; everyone could see if a query was pending or was resolved.

Riding the Technology Wave

Over the years, technology has played a crucial role in making the Indian motor insurance sector efficient. Insurers offered several add-ons to the comprehensive motor insurance policy along with the basic third-party liability policy. Strong comprehensive policies came into the picture, and the insurer as well as the insured benefitted. There was a reduction in administrative costs without compromising the cost-efficiency. It became easier for the insurer to ask for necessary details and for the insured to provide them with Know Your Customer (KYC) norms. Customer acquisition as well as customer servicing costs went down, and the insurance sector’s reach widened.

The insurers were able to offer policies online, and customers could make an informed decision by researching and getting in touch with the 24/7-available customer service executive. Web aggregators made it easier for customers to compare policies online and then go for their preferred option. Mobile apps emerged and allowed the customer to contact the company instantaneously, and vice versa. Technological advancements made the industry transparent and accessible, and, soon, they will make insurance desirable.

Road Ahead for Indian Motor Insurance

It is high time that motor insurance premiums are not solely based on the vehicle’s model and its basic locking system. Data will make it possible to determine premiums based on the driver’s age, gender, driving record, location and several such factors. Technology will provide data related to average car speed and the manner of driving. All this will determine the premium, almost in a customized manner.

See also: The Sharing Economy and Auto Insurance  

Product, service, distribution, underwriting, costing, strategic partnerships and other aspects of the business will be determined keeping technology and data at the core; that is what we believe in at Acko. These new approaches will be used to engage with the customers, reduce risk and achieve cost efficiency. India is welcoming a Digital Life, and motor insurance providers are leveraging technology to cater to the requirements of the digital-first generation.