WhatsApp Privacy Survey

Better World User Survey on WhatsApp Privacy Policy

by | Jan 29, 2021 | Policy, Privacy

Better World User Survey on WhatsApp's new privacy policy finds that 72% are open to switching to another viable messaging platform.
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Users vent out displeasure, want government to crack whip

WhatsApp Privacy Policy Survey Report

Survey and analysis by Deepak Kumar

There is a thin line that divides respect for privacy and intrusion of privacy. In the age of the digital, this line becomes wavy and fuzzy as well. For big internet companies, the user data that resides behind the line is a gold mine. The more they get of it, the richer they get.

The recent WhatsApp privacy policy changes are just about that. By gaining a right to use and share WhatsApp’s select user data with partners, Facebook aspires to gain an unsurmountable edge in the digital advertising world. It goes without saying that WhatsApp data can help reap rich ad dividends for parent company Facebook. Users are not pleased. In respose to the one-week-long Better World survey concluded recently, a majority of them (67%) want the government to step in some way, as discussed ahead in this report. Notably, these include Business WhatsApp users as well. In fact, by the time of writing this report, various leading media portals had reported that government had written to WhatsApp and asked the company to roll back the proposed privacy-policy changes.

It all started when WhatsApp started sending out notifications to its users to the effect that it had updated its privacy policy and the users could either accept the new policy or quit using WhatsApp by 8 February 2021. Meanwhile, while this report was underway, the deadline was extended by more than three months. Users now have to accept the new privacy policy by 15 May.

WhatsApp’s privacy-policy change and the aftermath

Users’ retort has indeed been quick, sharp, and massive. They poured out their disapprovals in words as well as in actions. Millions of users posted and tweeted their angst against the move and even signed up on alternative messaging apps such as Signal and Telegram. Tesla Founder Elon Musk’s two-word tweet, “Use Signal,” helped drive a switch from WhatsApp, particularly given his following of 41.5 million on Twitter.

The rush to leave WhatsApp was so high that servers of Signal were not able to take the load of new signups. At one point, Signal sent out a tweet, “Verification codes are currently delayed across several providers because so many new people are trying to join Signal right now…Hang in there.”

On 11 January 2021, Facebook’s shares declined 4.01% on a day when Nasdaq slipped just 1.55%. On 12 January, it further declined 2.24% on a day when Nasdaq rose 0.77%. On 14 January, it happened to be at the lowest in more than six months.

Better World ran a quick user survey, where 37% users said they considered the move a serious breach of their privacy, while 45% said they it was not good but they could live with it. Only around 18% said the change didn’t bother them at all. However, some of these 18% users were already using other messaging apps along with WhatsApp.

WhatsApp privacy policy-Graph1

What’s the big deal about privacy in the age of social media?

In the age of social media, many of us have become comfortable sharing our thoughts and views on Facebook. In fact, many people don’t mind sharing sensitive personal information such as location and travel plans not just with friends but also with public at large.

However, when it comes to WhatsApp, the behavior often changes. Many of the users’ chats are peer-to-peer in nature and may not be meant for public viewing or consumption. The same would apply to the other activities they perform on WhatsApp, whether today or in future. These would include the financial and transactional activities performed on the WhatsApp platform.

In a digital living environment, if a Facebook wall may be considered comprising areas of the lobby and the living room, WhatsApp will certainly be akin to the bedroom and beyond.

No wonder, the recent changes in WhatsApp’s privacy policy have created a din that Facebook could not see coming.

In the wake of the user backlash, WhatsApp had to get into a defensive mode, sending out clarifications and explanations. However, a damage had been done by then. In a first reaction, 17% users responded to the Better World survey said they were quitting/had quit WhatsApp for good, while 45% said they would accept the change but start exploring other or additional options. Interestingly, 12% said they were already using another social messaging app. However, a good 26% said they would accept the changes and keep using WhatsApp as before.

WhatsApp privacy policy-Graph2

The myth that users are unaware and don’t care for privacy is broken

Often, as an extension to the assumption that transparency is the hallmark of a digital age, it is argued that privacy is hardly a thing that users care about. The user backlash against WhatsApp’s privacy assumptions easily breaks that myth. It also reminds one of the “Free Basics” event a few years ago. Users had then considered it an attempt to compromise ‘net neutrality,’ and Facebook had to roll the offer back.

The promptness of users in defending their privacy and other rights can easily be evidenced by these two examples. The events also show that users are well aware of the repercussions of any policy change or a new offering in the internet world. This is echoed by this survey results, with 80% users stating they were aware that WhatsApp was changing its privacy policy, and would be sharing a range of user data with Facebook and Instagram platforms with effect from 8 February 2021 (now 15 May 2021). The remaining 20% users said they were not aware of such changes. It is likely that some of these users were yet to receive the notifications regarding policy change when they took this survey.

Further, around 47% of users said they understood the implications of WhatsApp’s new privacy policy for users reasonably well and another 18% said they understood it fully well. By contrast only 29% said they didn’t understand it well enough while another 6% said they didn’t understand it at all. Overall, this implies a high incidence of awareness around WhatsApp’s new privacy policy.

Notably, while the messages will remains end-to-end encrypted, the new policy means sharing a host of user-related information with Facebook and other third-party platforms. These include information about a user’s location, IP address, mobile operator, timezone, phone number, and receipt of a Facebook or WhatsApp account. Additionally, conversations associated with business accounts will now be shared with Facebook.

WhatsApp privacy policy-Graph3

The damage-control measures may be too little too late; more is needed

WhatsApp has issued a number of clarifications and explanations pertaining to the change. Those clarifications, however, have been far from satisfactory. Its parent company Facebook says the new policy changes are directed only at Business WhatsApp accounts and not the individual accounts. Also, it says only certain ad-related information will be shared with Facebook and other group companies.

However, on the actual Privacy Policy page, some of the statements may sound alarming to users. It states in one place, “We work with third-party service providers and other Facebook Companies to help us operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our Services,” and adds, “When we share information with third-party service providers and other Facebook Companies in this capacity, we require them to use your information on our behalf in accordance with our instructions and terms.”

What if third-party service providers don’t follow the “instructions and terms,” as had happened when in 2018 Cambridge Analytica was found to have harvested data of 87 million users from Facebook in 2016 under the guise of a survey app? In September 2018, again, hackers were able to exploit an API vulnerability to gain access to data of around 50 million users. In September 2019, data of 419 million Facebook users, including names and phone numbers, was exposed online, said Techcrunch. Three months later, data of 267 million Facebook users was reported by Comparitech as being in the wild. In March 2020, Comparitech revised the number to 309 million after finding data of another 42 million residing on another server had been compromised as well.

Given Facebook’s not-so-stellar record in protecting user data from being exploited by threat actors, it may be concerning for users to let some of their WhatsApp data be mined by Facebook and other third-party service providers.

WhatsApp, on its Privacy Policy page, further adds, “When you or others use third-party services or other Facebook Company Products that are integrated with our Services, those third-party services may receive information about what you or others share with them.” “Please note that when you use third-party services or other Facebook Company Products, their own terms and privacy policies will govern your use of those services and products.”

WhatsApp is not clear what this amounts to when used in conjunction with the previous two statements. Does this mean that if WhatsApp users share certain information with Facebook or other third-party services integrated with WhatsApp, the privacy policies of those services take over and WhatsApp’s privacy policy loses jurisdiction?

It will help if WhatsApp addresses such concerns and questions in its Privacy Policy document.

Pavan DuggalPavan Duggal, Indian cyber law expert

“I’m surprised that WhatsApp has done this even though India is their largest market. Effectively this means that WhatsApp, apart from sharing personal data, also discloses your transaction-associated information, which means including your credit card number, your debit card number, and your bank details. At the same time, they will share the IP address of users. It’s a very perilous situation, especially in a country that lacks a strong legal ecosystem around cyber laws and data security. Such policy changes can upsurge the probabilities of misusing users’ data by anti-social elements.  I strongly believe that people should count on more secure platforms such as Signal and Telegram for their messaging needs now.”

Rajesh Agarwal, Head IT, Aamor Inox

“People are moving to Signal and Telegram, but they are also coming back to WhatsApp. I’ve been using Signal for some time, along with WhatsApp, and found it is not as mature as WhatsApp is. There are many missing aspects in Signal, like, the personal reply feature. I found even the deletion of chat a cumbersome process in Signal. I understand the privacy concerns, but that’s there across the app ecosystem, and here WhatsApp is at least telling users what it is sharing and what’s not. Most of the users are testing Telegram and Signal while keeping WhatsApp as a primary communication tool. It will be exciting to see if this behaviour fluctuates and WhatsApp could address some of the privacy concerns that users may have”

Shashwat DCShashwat DC, Communications & Engagement (Research) at Azim Premji University

“While WhatsApp may try to dispel all fears about privacy expounding that its messaging platform is end-to-end encrypted, in reality, Facebook seems to trying to seize a lot of personal data to earn from its advertising business. To avoid such instances and provide users much-needed control over their data, India needs to implement its data protection law just like Europe’s stringent GDPR at the earliest. The world’s largest democracy, with a burgeoning IT sector, cannot risk the privacy of its citizens.”

There is a need for stakeholders to establish certain minimum privacy-policy norms

The right to privacy has been recognized as a fundamental right emerging primarily from Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Article 21 pertains to protection of life and personal liberty, and states, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” In August 2017, Government of India had set up a committee under the chairmanship of retired Justice BN Srikrishna to submit a report on data protection. The committee submitted its report in July 2018.

In its opening note, the report recognized that “the protection of personal data holds the key to empowerment, progress, and innovation.”

The Committee had noted that “any regime that is serious about safeguarding personal data of the individual must aspire to the common public good of both a free and fair digital economy.” “Freedom refers to enhancing the autonomy of the individuals with regard to their personal data in deciding its processing which would lead to an ease of flow of personal data,” it added.

Justice Srikrishna Committee had emphasized that processing (collection, recording, analysis, disclosure, etc.) of personal data should be done only for “clear, specific and lawful” purposes. Also, only that data which is necessary for such processing is to be collected from anyone.

Based on the recommendations of the committee, amounting to a draft Personal Data Protection bill prepared in 2018, a revised Personal Data Protection Bill was approved and placed in December 2019. A joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) chaired by Meenakashi Lekhi and comprising 20 members from Lok Sabha and 10 members from Rajya Sabha was constituted to submit its report. The JPC had conducted more than 55 sittings in 2020. Oral evidences were heard by the JPC from various state as well as non-state actors including Amazon, Google, Facebook, Jio Platforms, Paytm, and Twitter, among others. The final report of the JPC is awaited.

 Despite the fact that right to privacy has been recognized as a fundamental constitutional right, experts have been of the opinion that a law on data protection should be dynamic and not statutory in nature. This is more so because as digital economy becomes more and more prevalent and mainstream, data itself becomes dynamic in nature.

Coming to data protection, it is important to first distinguish between stationary data and moving data. While it can be reasonably guaranteed to foolproof privacy and security of stationary data, it can get very hard to ensure privacy of moving data.

The velocity of a moving data can be lightning fast in today’s digital environments. So once a private data gets into a public domain, even the slightest lapse or gap at the end of a data custodian could be disastrous. The hacks and misuses listed out earlier in this report are a testimony to this assertion.

It is therefore critical that, as we progress further into the digital economy, we ought to remove all regulatory fuzziness and laxity on the privacy front. A majority of respondents to the Better World survey subscribe to this view, with 24% noting that the government should ask WhatsApp to roll back the changes and another 43% stating that there needs to be a more holistic regulation in place. However, 33% of the users said that it would be better to let users be the best judge, though less than 22% of these users said they were fully aware of the implications of WhatsApp’s new privacy policy as users. Of the remaining 78%, slightly more than 26% said as users they didn’t understand the implications of WhatsApp’s new privacy policy at all or well enough, though more than 54% of these users said they reasonably understood the implications if not fully well.

WhatsApp privacy policy-Graph4

The choice of alternative reinforces that privacy is the key concern

Signal, which is considered to be the most privacy-oriented messaging app (see Table), was the first choice of those users who said they will look for WhatsApp alternatives. In this case, respondents had the option of selecting one or more apps, including WhatsApp. Telegram, which is considered second-most privacy-friendly app, had the second highest user preference.

While 34% of the users voted for Telegram as a WhatsApp alternative (and in some cases, as a replacement), a good 24% voted for Signal also. A fair percentage of respondents (15%) said they were sticking with WhatsApp even though they were using or considering to use apps other than WhatsApp as well.

The immediate user response, as evidenced from the survey, has been quite aggressive. While 18% of respondents said they had already quit WhatsApp as the only app, another 25% said they planned to do so within a week’s time and yet another 29% said they planned to quit in a month’s time. However, 28% said they had no plans to quit WhatsApp.

FeaturesWhatsAppTelegramSignal
Subscribers (Global)2 billion400 million20 million
Cross platformYesYesYes
Video and voice callYesYesYes
End-to-end encryption Personal messages and calls are end-to-end encrypted.Only for secret chatAll features are end-to-end encrypted
Type of softwareClosed-source privacyOpen-source privacyOpen-source privacy
Information collectionUser’s location, IP address, mobile operator, timezone, phone number, and details of a Facebook or WhatsApp account.Device data, IP addresses for moderation, phone number and the User IDOnly phone number for registration
Group chatsUp to 256 membersUp to 200,000 members1,000 members
File sharing capabilityVideos with 16MB limit in size and regular files up to 100MB2 GB100 MB
Folder managementChats can be stored through emailChats can be moved in to foldersNo such feature exists with Signal
Disappearing messages featureEnables self-destruction of a message after 7 daysEnabled through self-destruct timerEnable self-destruction after 5 seconds to 7 days once a user read the message
Data backupYes, online and offline backup on google driveYes, on Telegram’s cloudNo, stored on its own cloud platform
Group chat securityE2ENoE2E
Cross platformYesYesYes
WhatsApp privacy policy-Graph5
WhatsApp privacy policy-Graph6

Analyst’s Views

Better World is of the view that while the responses to this survey do reflect users’ displeasure with the new privacy policy, the actual actions taken by them will likely be different in many cases. Particularly, those users who are considering to quit WhatsApp in a month’s time, are more likely to have second thoughts and may stay put. It is also likely that some of the users who have already quit may come back after some time.

The key reason for such reconsiderations would be the huge user base that WhatsApp currently enjoys. While WhatsApp had a colossal global base of 2 billion subscribers, Telegram has a much smaller base of 400 million and Signal has a miniscule base of 20 million by comparison. Even if a few million WhatsApp users move to other platforms, it will not be fruitful if a significant percentage of their contacts also move to those very platforms. If that doesn’t happen, users could feel compelled to come back to WhatsApp for their daily messaging needs.

Notably, when considering alternative apps, 26% said they were sticking with WhatsApp. Further, when asked to provide a timeline for quitting, 28% said they had no plans to quit. It is quite possible that when it comes to actually quitting the platform, a much higher number of users will reconsider.

A consolidated view of respondents’ profiles

WhatsApp privacy policy-Graph7

About the Analyst and the Survey Methodology

Deepak KumarDeepak Kumar

Deepak is an ICT industry analyst with more than 25 years of experience in researching and analyzing multiple domains. His focus areas are strategic business and marketing advisory, sales enablement, and public speaking.  He has published reports, whitepapers, case studies, and blogs in areas of cloud, mobility, social media, and analytics.

He is Founder and Chief Research Officer at BM Nxt and Better World. He has earlier worked with IDC, Reuters, Voice&Data, and Dataquest in leadership roles spanning research, advisory, and editorial functions. 

About the report

The Better World WhatsApp Privacy Policy Survey Report was prepared by analyzing results of a primary research and supplementing it with data and insights collected from secondary research.  

The Better World WhatsApp Privacy Policy Survey was conducted via an online form that was circulated among more 1,000 respondents.  A total of 565 valid responses were collected during the period 9 January to 25 January 2021.  Better World also spoke to multiple respondents for qualitative insights. The surveys were led by Jatinder Singh, Director, Research and Insights, Better World, and independent market researcher Deepti Arora.  

Acknowledgements

I take this opportunity to sincerely thank all the survey respondents for taking time out and providing their inputs, without which this report would not have been completed in a timely manner. 

MORE FROM BETTER WORLD

Mahendra K Upadhyay, CIO, BARC

Mahendra K Upadhyay, CIO, BARC

In Focus

Mahendra Upadhyay, CIO

Broadcast Audience Research Council

We are skilled at using AI for analyzing troves of data efficiently

BARC India is a statistical and measurement science company which is ‘Of the Industry, By the Industry and For the Industry’.

The company is registered with the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) as a self-regulated, not-for-profit Joint Industry Body that provides the most authentic audience estimates of What India Watches, to Broadcasters, Advertisers and Advertising Agencies. The Big Data driven insights generated by BARC India, is built upon a robust and future-ready technology backbone which powers efficient media spends and content decisions in a highly dynamic and growing broadcasting sector.

Commencing operations in 2015, today BARC India manages the world’s largest and most diverse TV measurement system covering approximately187000 individuals in 44,000 households, in 513 districts covering over 600 towns and 1300 villages, across India.

Jatinder Singh of Better World recently interacted with Mahendra K Upadhyay, Chief Information Officer (CIO) at Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India to get in-depth understanding of how BARC has leveraged technologies such as AI, machine learning (ML) and robotics to analyze, predict and process various metrics for driving effective business and customer experience. Excerpts of the interview:

Better World: How have you leveraged the latest technologies and innovations to strengthen credibility, transparency and instill confidence in all stakeholders in the TRP measurement system?

Mahendra K Upadhyay: Our data serves as the trusted “currency” for the Indian broadcast industry. Through this “currency,” broadcasters and agencies make several vital decisions relating to programming, strategy, and audience targeting. Providing the data in usable forms in an unfailing and timely fashion, week on week is highly dependent on technology.

Collecting data from over 44,000 household television meters and 15,000+ individuals’ digital meters daily while integrating with massive databases and alternative data sources requires the data to be stored safely, scalably, efficiently, accessible, and cost-effectively. The kind of data BARC India collects, compiles, and provides insights for is a brilliant example of the 5Vs of big data – Volume, Velocity, Variety, Veracity, and Value. BARC India processes ten petabytes of data annually, larger than the Aadhar Card database’s data size and the US Census Bureau.

With this large and variable data, extensive use of the latest in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) technologies is required to minimize human intervention and extract and represent the information accurately as per the prescribed methodology.

We have set a strict standard for releasing our clients’ data, doing so diligently every Thursday at 11 am. Performance, improvements, quality, and consistency are few parameters we experience and implement each passing day – without a firm Information and technology framework, this would not be possible.

Besides, we have deployed and enriched Lambda (λ) architecture that utilizes cloud services (Native & Custom) and on-premises data center capacities. An in-house created Enterprise Data Lake (EDL) helps end-to-end Data Validation Processes (DVP), fully automated, removing any human intervention. In addition to this, the application framework learns system patterns to help us identify areas for improvement.

Better World: Can you please elaborate more on AI and ML technologies to strengthen business resiliency levels and navigate the disruptions?

Mahendra K Upadhyay: At BARC India, rather than serving as a replacement for human intelligence and ingenuity, we use AI as a supporting tool. We are skilled at processing and analyzing troves of data efficiently to generate the insights needed by our clients.  This way, we use AI to help get the best-required output and streamline the decision-making process.

BARC India has eliminated human intervention end-to-end in the data validation journey. All admin access on the system and the data is via Identity and Access Management and activity recording.

We prefer networks rather than hierarchies. BARC India has created cross-technology groups to share knowledge. To ensure that our systems/networks and applications are robust and mitigate process lapses, we regularly undertake third-party audits.

To generate authentic and accurate data of ‘What India Watches™’ is a responsibility we take with the highest sense of commitment and integrity. Also, we are implementing Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to do the daily repetitive operational jobs, not only in the Tech stream, but we are experimenting with it across the organization.

Better World: How do you prevent data tampering in your business?

Mahendra K Upadhyay: To generate authentic and accurate data of ‘What India Watches™’ is a responsibility we take with the highest sense of commitment and integrity.

Mahendra K Upadhyay, CIO, BARC India

Mahendra Upadhyay is a senior management professional in digital, data and technology space; presently working with BARC India as Chief Information Officer. Mahendra comes with 20 years of rich experience in telecom, banking, retail, media, and advertising industries with expertise in the entire data/digital value chain, i.e., ingestion-insights-analytics-interventions-auto AI and digital transformation.

Mahendra Upadhyay has previously worked with multinationals such as Mindshare, Ericsson, SAS Institute, among others.

Expertise

  • Digital transformation and automation
  • Digital marketing, marketing automation and measurement
  • Consumer Insights, interventions and advance analytics
  • Big data analytics, business intelligence (AI/ML)
  • Data/process management, security and governance
  • Large scale program management

Education

  • Executive Management, Business Administration and Management, General, Harvard business publishing, 2018
  • MBA, Business Management, Institute of Technology and Management, 2011
  • MCA, Rajiv Gandhi Prodyogiki Vishwavidyalaya, 2001

To ensure that we have deployed enterprise-level security architecture with robust perimeter and access control measures with the entire data path, from source to delivery, being end-to-end encrypted and monitored while maintaining vigilance through privilege identity management.

To ensure that endpoint security controls are in place, we’ve implemented Mobile Device Management (MDM) on the devices used/accessed by employees and the field force for data collection.

Over a Virtual Private Network (VPN), a single sign-in option for all corporate applications (on-premises, SaaS, IaaS) and Privilege Identity Management (PIM) based access methods ensure we have control over the actions being taken at every logging.  Further to this, we have network/user-level access controls for information to ensure it never crosses the BARC boundaries.

We have multi-layer firewalls and encryption methods; most importantly, we ensure that our data resides within India for effective law enforcement. Excellence is continuous. We do audits/checks of our IT systems and general control policies periodically to ensure we have updated protocols in place to resolve digital/cybersecurity-related challenges effectively.

Better World: How have you navigated the transition to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Mahendra K Upadhyay: BARC India drafted a comprehensive work-from-home (WFH) framework for its internal and external users by focusing on its key pillars: Communication, Collaboration, and Checks (security, integrity, and authority).

Secure processes and information flow are keys for success, so ‘Checks’ are critical to ensure their integrity. We have implemented two additional security layers and encryption protocols to ensure information is secure and applications function smoothly in the new normal environment of WFH.

Better World: What, according to you, are the key technology trends that will likely have the most significant impact on the enterprise ecosystem in the post-COVID environment?

Mahendra K Upadhyay: The FOUR key trends I see are:

  1. ‘Security Frameworks’ for securing information, application, networks, and end-users.
  2. ‘Robotic Process Automation’ for 100% uptime and optimum process utilization.
  3. Data-driven use cases and auto-discovery/treatments using advanced AI.
  4. Edge computing.

Finally, while technology and innovations can help, it’s ultimately human intelligence that makes the outcome business-friendly. This requires continuous investment, not only in tech but also in PEOPLE.

Nasscom, Microsoft join hands to promote AI innovations in India

Nasscom, Microsoft join hands to promote AI innovations in India

To promote AI-led innovation in the country, the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) has unveiled a new program, AI Gamechangers, in partnership with Microsoft. The program has been launched to recognize impactful and scalable AI-based innovation in the country.

According to the official release, NASSCOM and Microsoft will work jointly to develop and promote the AI Gamechangers program to spearhead AI’s adoption across all sectors.  As part of the program, NASSCOM will recognize the country’s top AI innovators at its Xperience AI Summit, one of India’s largest AI Summits.

The program will enable organizations, academia, and NGOs to demonstrate their AI-based products and solutions to give further fillip to AI-innovation in the country.

A selected panel of jury will evaluate the program entries on problem selection, solution innovation, and impact parameters. Participants can submit their entries between 4 March 2021 to 16 April 2021 here.

Boost to homegrown AI innovation

The role of AI innovations has grown across all industries in recent years. Most businesses rely heavily on the Cloud, having an opportunity to collect tons of structured and unstructured data. By leveraging this data, AI can make processes more intelligent and enable enterprises to perform increasingly complex tasks effortlessly.

“The past decades have seen a dramatic growth of innovation and talent in India. While the country continues to leap forward to become the global innovation hub, we expect AI to unlock $500 Bn of value to India’s GDP by 2025. Through this program, we aim to spotlight some of the leading AI-based innovations in the country, not only to recognize their efforts but to motivate the larger ecosystem to leverage this opportunity to help India become a global powerhouse in AI-led innovation,” said Debjani Ghosh, President, NASSCOM in an official release announcing AI Gamechangers launch. (See: Enterprises in India leading AI adoption globally)

The actionable intelligence provided by deep learning algorithms and metrics helps businesses and governments navigate the uncertainties, make more informed decisions and even anticipate customer preferences accurately. AI innovations have disrupted industries of all sectors – be it retail, manufacturing, IT, banking, or healthcare. (See: AI tools can drive significant efficiencies in oil and gas, AI in banking now geared for a takeoff and How artificial intelligence is transforming the Indian retail sector)

For instance, in healthcare, AI innovations have been leveraged to address patient’s queries, find prevention and early detection solutions to various human diseases, including the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recently deployed interactive AI-based chatbots to respond to the detailed queries of frontline staff and data operators of testing and diagnostic labs on COVID-19.  Many leading Indian medical practitioners are using AI to detect early signs of lethal diseases such as Cancer.

Requires collaborative approach

Today, there are several use-case studies where AI-based solutions have been leveraged to solve challenges such as water crisis, food shortage, flood relief, pest control. There are many more in the experimenting phase and are expected to make an impact in the future. With the inevitable launch of 5G, enterprises are expected to utilize AI-based innovations to make their processes more intelligent, launching voice-based solutions for real-time customer support and bettering their market behavior. (See: India gears up for AI leap in post-Covid-19 era)

“Cloud-led data and AI innovation offer a huge canvas for India to be the tech engine of the world and drive homegrown innovation. Data and AI are driving transformation at scale across industries and offer an incredible opportunity to transform public infrastructure and solve some of the most critical issues facing the country today,” said Anant Maheshwari, President – Microsoft India.

However, the homegrown innovations around AI can be accomplished only through a robust collaborative approach and all stakeholders’ participation. AI-innovations still need considerable research and efforts to mitigate challenges such as data quality, inexperienced staff, and limited prototypes locally.

Efforts like AI Gamechangers need to be supported with more funding opportunities from the central and state governments to promote and expand the local AI-related advancements.

How HR leaders used tech to beat the Covid blues

How HR leaders used tech to beat the Covid blues

The COVID-19 outbreak has turned the world upside down. Many people equated the situation with the great depression of 1929 when food was scarce, income went down, and millions of jobs were lost! From remote working with contingent staffing and transforming themselves digitally, organizations had to test and deploy new operating models to motivate their employees, remain operational and meet the expectations of their customers. HR tech came to the rescue for many and enterprises that accelerated digital transformation initiatives were better prepared to tackle the challenges. (See: How is digital transformation shaping the new future?).

The COVID-19 pandemic taught us new learnings and highlighted the significance of social interaction and humanity within almost every aspect of our lives.

Top HR and tech leaders, educationists, and talent stalwarts recently came together in a virtual-reality-based conference titled Lessons Learnt from Crisis to Design the Future’ to deliberate on the challenges posed by the pandemic and discuss leadership innovations that can ensure a more robust roadmap for the future. 

Vinay Ranjan, CCL

Vinay Ranjan, Director (Personnel), Central Coalfield Limited (CCL), a subsidiary of Coal India Limited.

“The pandemic has once again demonstrated the importance of adaption to survive. There will be a lot of changes during and after the pandemic. How you react to the situation will enable the best way to capitalize from the new realities”

Rohit Thakur, Paytm

Rohit Thakur, Group Chief Human Resources Officer, Paytm.

“At an organizational level, we had started our preparations after hearing about the COVID-19 situation in the other parts of the world. We keenly followed government advisories and ensured we are taking proactive measures to safeguard the health and well-being of our people.”

Guramrita Oberoi, Just Be

Guramrita Oberoi, Founder, Just Be

Last year, buying behaviors of corporate L&D functions shifted dramatically. We realized Social distancing is making L&D leaders search for alternatives and rethink how they can develop and train people and create and strengthen organizational capabilities and culture when we simply cannot get together in person. We started to realize engaging a virtual audience is quite different from presenting in-person. And not only did we need to adapt and upscale ourselves, but we also needed to find a way to fill the gap in immersive experiential engagements online.”

Better World was the exclusive research and media partner for this virtual HR tech conclave.

The VR-based conference was organized by More Than HR Global (MTHR), a Mumbai-based pan-India Knowledge Community in association with Beyond Reality Events (BRE), a VR initiative of Just Be, an integrated people solutions provider. BRE’s core team comprises Guramrita Oberoi (Founder), Kanishk Malick (Co-Founder), and Kartik Sachdev (Advisor).

The discussion panel at the event included: Anil Dhanker, senior HR management professional;  Dr. Aquil Basrai, Independent HR Consultant and Former President of National HRD Network; Bhavesh Chandaria, Group Africa Head, Training, and Development, SAFAL;  Debi Prasad, CEO at Potential Infinity, a People Consulting & Research firm; Gyan Nagpal, Dean of AIA Leadership Center (ALC); Rohit Thakur, Group Chief Human Resources Officer, Paytm; Sukumaran Mariappan, Vice President – Global Transformation & People Analytics, Trimble Inc; Tanaya Mishra, Head of Human Resources, Essar Projects Limited; Sunita Rao, Independent Senior Talent Leader; Prof. Vasanthi Srinivasan, Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore and Vinay Ranjan, Director (Personnel), Central Coalfield Limited (CCL), a subsidiary of Coal India Limited.

New challenges in uncertain times

One of the most extensive tests that many HR and tech leaders faced during the outbreak was a lack of experience in dealing with such an unprecedented crisis. While leaders who were able to reinvent themselves through transformative strategies navigated their organizations through the disruption, others who failed to design a solid action plan could barely endure the crisis.

During the session, the panelists touched upon the numerous facets of how COVID-19 and unprecedented lockdowns impacted HR and related techs and processes. Intelligent enterprises took the route of digital transformation and emphasized making decisions that serve their people’s and businesses’ long-term interests while sidelining short-term lucrative steps.

Accelerating digital transformation helped many enterprises navigate the uncharted waters of COVID-19. “While the pandemic was quite dramatic and shocking, technology and variety of media enabled us to collaborate and kept our social capital alive with the people that mattered – professionally or personally. The pandemic compelled us to pause, contemplate, and appreciate the little things we often take for granted.” Gyan Nagpal, Dean of AIA Leadership Center (ALC).

In the social distancing age, technology is playing a crucial role in connecting and engaging people. The event itself was hosted on an innovative VR based platform, bridging the digital and physical worlds.

Echoing similar sentiments, Sukumaran Mariappan, Vice President – Global Transformation & People Analytics, Trimble Inc, said, “We often accuse technology as a reason to separate us and make us less social, but during the outbreak, technology brought us together. It even enabled us to learn something new and collaborate effectively in the times of crisis.”

At a personal level, the crises posed an unprecedented challenge for individuals. Many participants shared that the months of uncertainty and fear amplified the importance of the human connect’ aspect like never before. Companies like Paytm started preparing for the crisis timely after keeping a closer tab on international developments.

“At an organizational level, we had started our preparations after hearing about the COVID-19 situation in the other parts of the world. We keenly followed government advisories and ensured we are taking proactive measures to safeguard our people’s health and well-being. Nevertheless, we learned many new things while coping up with the pandemic. Following protocols as they were announced, then 100% of employees working from home consistently and trying to do that, engaging them, reducing panic, motivating them was a completely new challenge,” said Rohit Thakur, Group Chief Human Resources Officer, Paytm.

A winning strategy

The panelists at the event discussed the importance of adaptability to survive in a crisis. While adaptability was a crucial attribute even before the pandemic, Covid-19 made it a must-have skillset to survive. Within the months of the pandemic, we adjusted to living our lives very differently. Those organizations who adapted well (using HR tech) during the crisis not only survived but also made a substantial leap.

“Coal comes under essential services and is important for the energy security of India. So, for us, lockdown had never implemented. Like several other companies in our sector, we were poorly prepared to tackle sudden technological changes, such as moving from physical to virtual meetings. Nevertheless, our people exhibited great resilience and adjusted to the new normal very fast. The leadership at Coal India also set strong examples and took actions that reflect wider care and empathy,” said Vinay Ranjan, Director (Personnel), Central Coalfield Limited (CCL), a subsidiary of Coal India Limited.

Not surprisingly, the emphatic and caring policies of CCL did wonders for its production capabilities as its workforce responded to the pandemic bravely.

Gyan Nagpal, ALC

Gyan Nagpal, Dean of AIA Leadership Center (ALC).

“The pandemic compelled us to pause, contemplate, and appreciate the little things we often take for granted.”

Prof. Vasanthi Srinivasan

Prof. Vasanthi Srinivasan, Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.

“We all must remember it’s the collaboration, whether, in terms of vaccines or humanity coming together, that has made it possible for us to where we are today. We all need to think about making a better world by leveraging our capabilities and using technology wisely. We need to ensure such crisis doesn’t happen again or be better managed.”

Bhavesh Chandaria

Bhavesh Chandaria, Group Africa Head, Training, and Development, SAFAL.

“We need to be ready for the future uncertainty by taking a break from things that we take for granted.”

About MTHR Global

Mumbai-based MTHR Global (More Than HR Global), a leading Knowledge Community Pan India since 2002, is a not-for-profit body that continues to bring the best in Learning and Networking! MTHR Global is a community that grew to over 15000 members within ten years across India and in a few other countries across the world.

About Beyond Reality Events

BR Events is a virtual reality offering by Just Be. Under BRE, the company provides immersive and interactive experiences for its clients — from layout to branding, bringing the real world into 3D.

During the COVID-19, the coal stock at its thermal power plant rose to the highest ever inventory of about 46 days compared to the average supply of 20-22 days, demonstrating exceptional results for companies who made their employees feel heard and included the COVID-19 crisis.

The session panelists also delved deeper into the hard-earned lessons for the future from the current crisis. The senior HR and tech leaders shared the importance of acting fast, cross-training employees, and eliminating overdependencies.

“I think we need to detox from overdependence. The new crisis response cannot be designed from the viewpoint of COVID. It could be an internet or electricity outage. We need to be ready for the future uncertainty by taking a break from things that we take for granted,” said Bhavesh Chandaria, Group Africa Head, Training, and Development, SAFAL.

“For instance, many countries keep a car-free day in a month. Why can’t we plan things and embed such things into our design, say an electricity and internet free half-day a month? This is essential so that our today’s generation does not assume and completely dependent upon such things. We need to learn to live without the obvious,” Chandaria explicated.

Final thoughts

The industry experts also outlined the importance of collaboration and using technological innovations wisely to create a better and sustainable future. At various levels, everyone emphasized the importance of empathy toward those who surround us, developing hyper skills, exploring multiple ways to approach a particular challenge at an individual and organizational level.

Tech startups in India building resilience amid disruption

Tech startups in India building resilience amid disruption

Indian tech startups are setting a perfect example of building resilience amidst the crisis. Even though the havoc wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic was unprecedented and resulting in severe pain, it is also true that the outbreak profoundly influenced indigenous innovations, new tech startup ideas, and digital transformation roadmaps in India. (See: Digital transformation deals put IT sector back on track)

When businesses were scrambling to find the best ways to deal with the crisis, Indian tech startups emerged as a force to reckon with. According to a recent Nasscom report, India added a whopping 1600 plus tech startups in 2020 and has become the third-largest tech startup ecosystem in the world after the US and China. 

Ravindra Kumar, IT Delhi Alumni AssociationRavindra Kumar, President, IIT Delhi
Alumni Association

“Fostering entrepreneurship and nurturing tech startups has always been a key priority area for IIT Delhi. We utilize technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI),
blockchain, and cloud to get all our students and alumni together and build a global outreach.”

Rajesh Kumar, Founder CEO of Sabzibhazi.com

“The last few months have been good for our business. As people moved to digital channels for their grocery shopping needs, we got thousands of new customer registrations, and there is substantial revenue flowing in now. We are planning to expand our operations and upgrade our app interface for better positioning.”

Akhilesh Shukla, TechshotsAkhilesh Shukla, Co-Founder and Editor TechShots.

“We saw a significant gap in the Indian news industry, lacking a common tech-news platform for enterprise decision-makers. And that’s how the idea of Techshots was born. Leveraging technology, we are delivering technology news and enabling technology decision-makers to make informed decisions.”

The number of unicorns (those who have a valuation of over $1 billion) is also growing steadily in India. In 2020 alone, 11 startups from India joined the unicorn club, which boasts of Paytm, Ola, Zomato, Cars 24, and 34 others.

The above figures are intriguing and contrary to the early fears raised by several industry observers. The Indian startup ecosystem was projected for a steep decline by many in March 2020 due to the Covid-induced bedbound economic environment. Technology interventions and innovative ideas played a pivotal role in resuscitating the growth path. (See: How is digital transformation shaping the new future?)

Turning the crisis into opportunity

When millions of citizens were confined to their homes, the rise of digital technologies created fresh opportunities. These technologies enabled people to do things efficiently and in a cost-effective way. Had it not been for the role of IT and tech startups in India, the impact of the crisis could have been more upsetting!

Amidst the widespread uncertainty and social distancing measures, the dependencies on digital solutions grew enormously. Whether it is healthcare consultation, retail, astrology, education, grocery supply, or entertainment, technology kept the economy running and helped us adapt to the new normal.

If Indian tech startups such as Byju, UpGrad, and Unacademy excelled in transforming the education and learning delivery, location surveillance apps such as Unmaze, Aarogya Setu, and Sahyog kept the COVID-19 virus in check. India also witnessed a massive surge in fintech and health startups as the demand for their services, such as contactless payments and telemedicine, grew much faster.

News aggregators such as InShorts, Dailyhunt, and TechShots have gained significant traction as people continue to switch to their personal mobile devices for real-time information and news.

Some of the new habits that people learned during the pandemic are likely to remain permanent, and this compelled many entrepreneurs to launch niche and specialized services. “Media consumption habits are changing quickly. Most consumers now prefer to receive their daily dose of news bulletin digitally in a crisp format. During the COVID-19 crisis, this demand reached a record level. We saw a significant gap in the Indian news industry, lacking a common tech-news platform for enterprise decision-makers. And that’s how the idea of TechShots was born. Leveraging technology, we are delivering technology news and enabling technology decision-makers to make informed decisions,” said Akhilesh Shukla, Co-Founder and Editor TechShots.

With quarantine and lockdown rules forced consumers to stay indoors, online grocery delivery demand witnessed a massive rise throughout 2020. Along with established online grocery suppliers such as Big Basket, Grofers, and Amazon, agritech startups such as Otipy, Sabzibhazi, Freshokartz, Agrowave, among others, also made their presence felt.

“I started Sabzibhazi in 2019. When I first launched this company with my meager savings in 2019, it didn’t do well. The idea was to provide the freshest produce at a reasonable price using a new-age tech platform. Even though we did much research, but there were still no customers. It was a tough time. We didn’t go for fundraising as we didn’t want to be answerable to anyone. Moreover, we were not sure if we would get that much attention from venture capitalists,” says Rajesh Kumar Pandit, Founder CEO of Sabzibhazi.com, a South Delhi-based digital farm-to kitchen service provider.

Things changed quickly for Rajesh when India announced nationwide lockdowns. Many established players failed to meet the unprecedented surge in demand for online fresh produce. “The last few months have been good for our business. As people moved to digital channels for their grocery shopping needs, we got thousands of new customer registrations, and there is substantial revenue flowing in now. We are planning to expand our operations and upgrade our app interface,” an enthusiastic Kumar adds.

In the healthcare space, startups like Pharmeasy, CureFit, and EyeNetra attracted massive investors’ interest.

Innovative ideas fueling startups

Besides the above, innovative virtual event platforms Airmeet also garnered significant attention from enterprises. Businesses took their services for hosting various internal workshops, panel discussions, and customer events in a setting where physical events are restricted.

There are also pure-play data analytics firms such as Mu Sigma, which are growing exponentially. 

The tech startup culture in India is equally supported by the government and premier institutes like IIT. The Indian government has taken several initiatives recently to help the local startup ecosystem grow. Under the AatmaNirbhar Bharat vision, the government has eased regulations, announced tax exemptions, and set up a Rs 10,000 crore fund exclusively for startups.

“Fostering entrepreneurship and nurturing tech startups has always been a key priority area for IIT Delhi. We utilize technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and cloud to get all our students and alumni together and build a global outreach,” said Ravindra Kumar, President, IIT Delhi Alumni Association, in an earlier interaction with Better World. (See: IIT Delhi can help develop an Indian equivalent of Google or Facebook).

The year also saw spectacular ideas such as anti-viral t-shirts and COVID-19 protective lotions unveiled by E-TEX and Clensta, two startups incubated at IIT Delhi.

Another startup that caught our attention was ATAI Labs; an applied AI company launched recently. The startup provides AI-based digital transformation solutions for the supply chain and logistics industry, which bring the data center capabilities closer to the source of data and enable AI inferencing, decision making, and analytics at the EDGE.  The 70-employee young Indian startup offers innovative solutions to augment maritime, retail, locomotive, and surveillance capabilities. (See: AI is a must now to speed up digital transformation)

Factors.ai is also an AI-based startup that focuses on providing marketing analytics for entrepreneurs and small-medium businesses. The startup was chosen as one of the 20 firms for the fourth cohort of the Google for Startups (GFS) Accelerator program in India last year.

An equally exciting tech-startup, The Water App, was launched to solve the water crisis in Hyderabad. The company leverages advanced technologies and intelligence to monitor supply chain management of water and deliver clean water at the doorstep.

Final thoughts

Before the pandemic, many enterprises were reluctant to go online entirely. But things changed quite dramatically. Across all sectors, there was no option but to accelerate the digital transformation.

Indian tech startups and IT companies proved that integrating innovations with adaptability models led to new pathways and behavioral models, bringing together enormous resilience and resolve.

At Better World, we believe that this is just the beginning. Indian tech startups not only took risks and found new innovative models but were also instrumental in adding thousands of new jobs at a time when people were losing hopes. In 2021, according to Nasscom, the Indian IT industry (along with the tech startups) is expected to add over 1,38,000 new hires, taking the total employee base in this sector to 4.47 million.

By leveraging technologies such as artificial intelligence, analytics, and cloud-based collaboration tools, these young tech companies will continue to bring the best of the ideas and tools to revive the economy and develop life-enabling solutions.

Narendra Agarwal joins Dabur as Global CIO

Narendra Agarwal joins Dabur as Global CIO

Narendra Agarwal CIO

Narendra Agarwal, Global CIO, Dabur.

Narendra Agarwal has joined Dabur India as its new Global CIO. Agarwal moves from Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL), where he donned multiple IT and automation leadership roles during the nine-year tenure. He was responsible for digitizing Dabur’s newly acquired Nutrition (GSK) business.

“We are delighted to welcome Narendra Agrawal as the Global CIO of Dabur India Ltd. Narendra is an MBA professional with 13 years of industry experience in technology transformation and leadership. Narendra comes with vast exposure in successfully leading large-scale global transformation projects in ERP, Logistics Operations, financial forecasting, and S&OP,” Dabur said in a statement released through its official Twitter account.

Among his HUL accomplishments, Agarwal led E2E IT integration for Unilever’s biggest merger and the first-ever remote merger in the industry. He led the technology stabilization and automated platform management for the logistics technology solution, driving continuous improvements in the DevOps model for business.

Overall, Narendra Agarwal has led several large-scale business and technology transformation programs with Dabur, Amdocs, and Capgemini as a CIO or IT leader.

An alumnus of IIM Indore, Agarwal has a keen interest in strategizing and rapidly executing technology capabilities for specific business capabilities that help build business models to get closer to users and help enterprises gain a competitive edge. Narendra has also done a Bachelor’s in Engineering from Mumbai University. 

About Dabur India

Dabur India Ltd is one of India’s top FMCG Companies with revenues of over Rs 7,680 Crore and a market capitalization of over Rs 88,500 Crore. Riding on consumer discretionary spending revival, Dabur India reported its highest-ever quarterly revenue and profits in December 2020.

Dabur also plans to set up a new subsidiary to manufacture, sell, and export its consumer care products. The company was founded in 1884 by SK. Burman and headquartered in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh.

AI tools can drive big efficiencies in oil and gas

AI tools can drive big efficiencies in oil and gas

The role of artificial intelligence (AI) is evolving, especially in industrial organizations such as oil and gas, where data acts as a critical enabler to provide a competitive advantage. Industrial organizations operating in the fields of mining, oil, and gas; and marine, are going through a radical transformation and seeking innovative ways to optimize performance with minimized risk.

The volatile and ever-competitive nature of the industrial companies demands them to identify new and innovative sustainable models to stay profitable, grow and unlock efficiencies. The situation has become more challenging in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. According to a Capgemini research, over 50% of the European manufacturers, 30% in Japan, 28% in the USA, and 25% in South Korea implement AI solutions.

Enterprises operating in Oil and Gas, Marine, and Oil use traditional machinery which may not be easily replaceable because of the huge costs associated with it. Hence, they need advanced technologies to optimize their operations. They are the ones where data could act as a critical enabler to provide them a competitive advantage if managed with the right combination and tools. (See: How will AI impact enterprise ecosystems in 2021?)

Intelligent machines, optimized production

An estimate from the Robotic Industry Association says the cost of one minute of production-line downtime for a company like General Motors could be around $20,000. That’s enormous!

AI for industrial organizations has become essential for driving operational efficiencies of their assets and processes. With AI and ML advancements, industrial enterprises can make their machines smarter, predict maintenance schedules, minimize downtime and let the devices identify problems sooner, and even rectify them automatically in some instances.

Industrial organizations have an enormous amount of data from their different manufacturing processes. However, the lack of talent and necessary tools prevent them from leveraging the same for deriving meaningful insights.

By monitoring and analyzing data carefully, industrial organizations can anticipate the gaps in the output and receive automated warnings to stop the machine when there is an issue. This helps save cost and time, assisting companies to better their efficiencies. For instance, by leveraging AI-based predictive tools in oil and gas, companies can identify the machine and pipeline deterioration signs and raise alarms to pipeline operators. The use of voice-enabled AI chatbots can also help in oil and gas and mining areas, whereby operators can engage in meaningful automated conversations around the processes, focusing solely on production-related activities.

The supply chain is another crucial process gaining substantial benefits from the AI and ML-driven applications, ensuring industrial companies create equipment buffers as per the real-time market demand. Besides, AI capabilities are also being used extensively for manufacturing and industrial companies to reduce energy consumption, minimize assembly lead times, and increase asset utilization.

Key challenges

The challenge, however, for the industrial organization is a widening gap in the knowledge and competencies of various enterprises’ internal IT departments. The shortage of internal talent to deploy and scale AI in production and integrate with existing standardized solutions.

The successful predictive maintenance strategy is heavily dependent upon the data to integrate necessary engineering in the machinery. Data can not bring efficient results in case they are working in seclusion.

The industry needs strong foundations and collaboration models to create new enterprise-specific applications to analyze data and automate critical processes. Another major challenge that many enterprises need to deal with is managing the people and cultural change. It becomes necessary for organizations implementing AI solutions to conduct essential workshops and focus group discussions on understanding the pain points and queries of their employees.

As we move forward in 2021, AI for industrial organizations will see greater demand as they focus on reducing time to impact and balance their supply chains according to the real-time demand. The industry is likely to witness a steep rise of several integrated solutions from emerging solutions providers and specialized companies to help Industrial companies drive further innovations.

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