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. 

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Wipro hardens its LIVE Workspace suite with Intel vPro

Wipro hardens its LIVE Workspace suite with Intel vPro

Wipro Limited, a leading global information technology, consulting and business process services company, today announced that it will join forces with Intel to enable Wipro’s LIVE Workspace, Wipro’s digital workspace solution with the Intel vPro platform. This joint collaboration will help customers drive business continuity by enabling remote IT support and solutions, as they seek to keep employees productive amid social distancing boundaries and other remote-work limitations that have become the new normal.

Wipro integrated the Intel vPro platform into LIVE Workspace, a suite of digital workplace services to provide remote manageability of devices. This extends to users at home or in the office and provides enhanced protection and security against firmware-level attacks. The combined solution provides practical business continuity services to enable enterprises to rapidly design, deploy, and manage a true remote work experience. Intel recently introduced its 10th generation Intel Core vPro processors that are built for business to power next generation business computing needs. Wipro will leverage the Intel vPro platform which features Intel Active Management Technology (Intel AMT) and Intel Endpoint Management Assistant (Intel EMA). This will enable remote work and drive seamless productivity and collaboration while giving employees the flexibility to work from anywhere in a safe, more secure and reliable manner.

Satish Yadavalli, Vice President, Cloud and Infrastructure Services, Wipro Limited said, “The collaboration is a testament of our strength and our joint resolve to enhance the value we can create for our customers. We intend to bring together our strong complementary capabilities on remote working tools & platforms, desktop & application integration and managed services, to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic. Wipro is a leader in workplace management services and Intel in client computing solutions. Together, we can equip enterprises to enhance employee experiences and connectivity to help achieve strategic business outcomes.”

“Our partnership with Wipro has been strong and we applaud Wipro’s laser focus on driving customer value. The Intel vPro platform is built for business, and Wipro’s digital workspace solution is perfect for customers adapting to the new normal of remote workplace management. Together we are delivering on a vision for seamless productivity and collaboration, so people can contribute at the highest level regardless of where they are,” said Stephanie Hallford, Intel Vice President of the Client Computing Group and General Manager of Business Client Platforms.

Nokia’s CoE at IISc could be a 5G robotics catalyst

Nokia’s CoE at IISc could be a 5G robotics catalyst

Finnish multinational Nokia recently announced that it has collaborated with the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), one of India’s foremost institutes and university for research and higher education in science and engineering, to set-up the Nokia Center of Excellence (CoE) for Networked Robotics. Nokia’s CoE at IISc has some far-reaching potentials in the areas of 5G and artificial intelligence (AI).

The CoE would primarily focus on 5G-connected drones in emergency management, agriculture, and industrial automation.

Nokia mentions that the new facility will leverage the competencies of Bell Labs—a Nokia-owned industrial research and scientific development entity—to facilitate research and solutions development in areas such as robot orchestration, robot network controller, and human-robot interaction.

“Emerging technologies such as the 5G have the potential to enable an entirely new array of use cases with a profound societal impact. With Nokia’s rich innovation heritage, we aim to engage with the bright and young minds at IISc to nurture and advance the latest technologies that can benefit communities. We are confident that it will lead to the development of ground-breaking use cases,” Sanjay Malik, Senior Vice President and Head of India Market, Nokia, said in a statement.

According to Nokia, the critical research use cases in this effort will include drones for remote management of agricultural orchards to promote water conservation and avoid human contact with pesticides, gathering situational information, and applications like anticipating crop fires. The research at Nokia’s CoE at IISc will also include the use of connected robots in industrial automation.

Drone technology strengthened by 5G

Drone-based use cases are particularly exciting for a vast country like India, which needs intelligent, safer, and budget-friendly solutions to monitor and manage remote locations for various purposes. A couple of years ago, Reliance Jio, now the country’s largest telecom operator, showcased a robust 5G-enabled drone that could be used in security surveillance and detect threats through real-time monitoring from the sky. Jio is believed to be working on several new technologies by harnessing the power of 5G to create a strong impact soon. Jio and Ericsson had jointly developed the prototype.

One of the significant potentials of 5G technology is that it reduces the latency rate to one millisecond. This is phenomenally better in comparison to 4G technology, which offers an average latency of about 50 milliseconds (latency is the time taken by the signal to travel from the device to a cell tower). Hence, in such a scenario, 5G-enabled drones will leverage high-speed internet connectivity and technologies like AI to realize their full potential in real-time. For instance, such drones will be useful in disaster rescue operations and locating casualties during catastrophes through instant live-streaming footages.

For enterprises too, the drone technology could be of great help as it would enable them to keep a tab on their remote warehouses and delivery of goods and services even to the most distant of places, without much of human intervention.

A part of bigger 5G gameplan

Globally, everyone is eagerly waiting for the rollout of 5G technology. While the Covid-19 outbreak may have pushed the 5G deployment plans a bit further, the technology today holds more importance than ever before.

The remote-working environment and social distancing measures are likely to continue for a longer period, even once the outbreak of the pandemic subsides. In such a scenario, 5G is expected to drive enterprise and socially relevant digital transformation efforts by supporting several new-age technologies such as the internet of things (IoT), robotic process automation (RPA), facial recognition (FR), and machine learning (ML), among others, for efficiency gains.

Nokia’s CoE at IISc may be seen as one of the many steps to intensify its 5G prospects in the country. The initiative is in line with the Indian government’s efforts to promote innovation, strengthen the domestic ecosystem around new-age technologies, and foster economic growth. By collaborating with IISc, Nokia also has the opportunity to demonstrate its technological competency and network capabilities to the government.

It is notable in this context that Nokia has recently signed a deal of Rs 7,636 crore with Airtel to help the telco lay the foundation for providing 5G connectivity. The company is exploring several partnership models to expand its horizons in India.

The made-in-India angle

India, which is aggressively focusing on modern-day innovations to enable advanced facilities and infrastructure, even in the remotest of its areas, is being seen as a massive investment destination by multinationals.

With local sentiments growing for domestically manufactured products and services, global multinationals will continue to take a collaborative route to produce Made in India products.

Moreover, as the second-largest telecom market in the world, India also offers massive potential for 5G gear makers such as Nokia, Samsung, and Huawei. These companies will likely explore other possible routes as well to meet India’s domestic manufacturing requirements.

The Jio ecosystem has begun to unfold

The Jio ecosystem has begun to unfold

 

Name of app

Area of service

AJio

Online shopping

JioBrowser

Web-browser

JioCloud

Cloud storage services

JioCinema

Video-on-demand

JioChat

Messaging service

JioGameslite

Online gaming

JioGate

Apartment security

JioHome

Mobile remote control for Jio Set-top box

JioHealthHub

Health and fitness

JioMart

Online grocery delivery

JioMeet

Video conferencing

JioMoney

Digital currency and payment services

JioNews

News and information

JioPOSLite

Jio recharge commission

JioSaavn

Music streaming

JioSecurity

Security

JioSwitch

File sharing

JioTV

Live streaming

With close to 400 million telecom subscribers and several partnerships with multiple global technology giants, Jio Platforms is sitting on a hotbed of opportunities to build a Jio ecosystem. From telecom to e-commerce and future 5G solutions, the company is ticking every box in its bid to become India’s digital behemoth.

Today, Jio Platforms operates more than a dozen mobile apps spanning different e-service categories. Launched barely three months ago, its Jio Mart has already shaken the retail solutions market, becoming the largest e-grocery in the country with close to 400,000 daily orders.

The secret to Jio’s success is undeniably the customer-centric model it has followed, along with the robust financial support from its parent company, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL).

Back to mobile telephony

When Jio launched its 4G telecom services in 2016, many industry observers were doubtful if Jio would be able to create a niche for itself in the hyper-competitive telecom market. For the first few months of the launch, Jio offered voice and mobile data services for free.

In the months leading up to the launch of Jio’s aggressively priced 4G services, Jio faced severe criticism for adversely impacting the rest of the telecom services industry. However, it is equally valid that without Jio’s incredible efforts, the dream of digital India wouldn’t have appeared as possible as it looks now.

Amidst all this hullaballoo, Jio’s deluge of freebies and ultra-affordable data plans enabled it to increase the mobile broadband subscriber base to several million. For the first time, many Indian consumers used the mobile internet and realized its potential benefits at a cost that was unthinkable before. The company’s mobile-first approach helped it gain a substantial footing in the market, and improved data adoption in India enormously.

Back then, no other operator was willing to drive data growth through aggressive price plans. The operators had continued to keep the mobile data prices at a level that was not attractive enough for mass adoption. One needs to remember that before the arrival of Jio, the 1GB data used to cost around Rs 200 for the user, which was way too expensive for the masses. Today, the same data costs an average of Rs 25 per GB, considering various mobile plans.

The price cuts resulted in enormous growth in the average consumption of mobile data, something India had been waiting for so long.

Once Jio built the much-needed user base, it went on to develop several Jio exclusive as well as open-market apps and platforms to drive the digital transformation around a developing Jio ecosystem. (See: Jio driving digital shifts in the economy).

That Jio’s growing dominance made it difficult for its competitors to survive and spurred a wave of consolidation in the telecom sector is another story.

Value of lessons learned

The telecom and allied businesses have always been close to the heart of RIL’s Chairman and MD, Mukesh Ambani. Time and again, he has proved that there is no match to his sharp acumen, ability to envisage, spot the future trends early on, and design an impeccable business strategy that is driven by Indian needs. By focussing on building new partnerships, Ambani is helping Jio take the next significant steps in the digital terrain.

One can’t forget the Monsoon Hungama offer in the year 2003, which created a mass frenzy and drove an unprecedented price war in the Indian telecom market. That, in turn, helped India to expand its local telecom service base.

To run a quick refresh, the Monsoon Hungama offer entitled a customer to get a mobile phone along with a 100-minute call time per month for an upfront payment of Rs 501 and a monthly payment of Rs 200 for three years. The offer lowered the entry bar and encouraged many first-time users to use mobile services. Later, however, due to reasons known to all, Mukesh exited the telecom business in 2005, and his Reliance Infocomm business went to Anil Ambani, his younger brother.

 With Jio, he is pursuing his futuristic vision again and swiftly turning Jio into the country’s super telecom and digital service provider, something which he could not do in his previous telecom outing.

By bringing various small and medium-term businesses to a Jio ecosystem, the company is tactically moving up the value chain by demonstrating profits for all those who are getting associated with Jio’s dream plan.

A Jio timeline

June 2010 Entered the telecom space by purchasing a 95% stake in Infotel Broadband Services Limited (IBSL), which had a 4G broadband spectrum in all 22 circles in India.
January 2013 Renamed Infotel Broadband Services to Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (RJIL)
May 2016 Launched several multimedia apps on Google Play to offer along with its 4G services
September 2016 Initiated a price war by launching ultra-affordable 4G services throughout India
December 2016 Acquired 50 million telecom subscribers
February 2017 Crossed 100 million subscribers
August 2017

Launched a host of feature phones, marketed under the Jio brand

September 2019

Introduced a fiber to the home service, providing home broadband, television, and telephone services

November 2019 Formed a new digital services company, Jio Platforms. Made RJIL a wholly-owned subsidiary of Jio Platforms
March-June 2020 Raised Rs 1,52,056 crore from top tech investors including Facebook, Google, Intel, Qualcomm, and Silver Lake, among others
July 2020 Jio Platforms’ enterprise value estimated to be around US $70 billion; crossed 400-million subscribers mark

Jio Platform’s recent partnership with Facebook has been seen as an excellent idea for generating immense opportunities for the company and the Jio ecosystem. (See: Will FB–Jio deal create magic?).

Already, 13 other global technology behemoths and strategic investment firms, including Google, Intel Capital, Qualcomm, Silver Lake, Vista Equity Partners, General Atlantic, KKR, Mubadala, ADIA, TPG, L Catterton, and PIF have participated in the fund-raising exercise for Jio Platforms.

Jio is enabling many small and medium businesses to leverage its technology platforms to create a unique digital ecosystem in India. And its sizeable local footprint and business goodwill are helping it to create a fund-raising frenzy even during a pandemic-driven economic slowdown.

AI in banking now geared for a takeoff

AI in banking now geared for a takeoff

Digital disruption is impacting every industry and transforming the ways of working. The traditional models are slowly waning, and trailblazing technologies are emerging. In the age of cloud computing and internet applications, services like telegram and postcards are things of the past. Banking too has endured many changes over time while implementing several new technologies to facilitate faster transactions and on-the-move banking with just a few clicks. AI in banking is taking transformation to a new level.

The unprecedented Covid-19 scenario, which has compelled many to stay at home, has further pushed the banks to explore innovative banking solutions and create a differentiation strategy for the convenience of their customers. Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the most powerful technologies that has been helping the banking sector to drive several of these new-age innovations.

Driven by the benefits of predictive analytics, voice recognition, and advance human learning capabilities, AI technology enables banks to provide a customized experience to their customers, strengthens compliance, and delivers a secure digital payment ecosystem across a plethora of channels. It helps manage an enormous amount of data at a rapid speed, and empowers them to comprehend detailed insights from it, providing a better understanding of their customers and behaviors.

Globally, tools such as conversational chatbots, virtual security assistants, fraud detection, and face recognition are being widely used to drive meaningful customer engagement. If we look at the Indian market scenario, banks are waking up to the benefits of AI tools for both back-office and customer interfacing functions.

Let’s look at the AI journeys of some of the leading banks.

HDFC Bank

In 2017, India’s leading private-sector bank deployed an AI-based conversational chatbot called Electronic Virtual Assistant (EVA). In less than three years of its deployment, EVA, designed by Bengaluru-based Senseforth AI Research has claimed to have helped HDFC respond to over 5 million customer queries with more than 85% accuracy. The tool uses natural language processing and is now also available on the Google Assistant platform. It provides the relevant answers to users by scanning thousands of HDFC website sources in just a few seconds.

Chatbots like EVA help fetch relevant information very easily without letting users navigate the entire website or getting into a painstaking effort of waiting on a call. In addition to EVA, the bank has also deployed several AI-enabled tools in risk management, credit scoring, employee engagement, and onboarding in the last few years. It uses OnChat, which works on Facebook, to help with all kind of bill-payments. HDFC is also testing various in-store robotic applications.

State Bank of India

Despite being a public-sector bank, SBI is known to be aggressive in terms of leveraging the latest technologies. The company’s banking dashboards are considered to be one of the best in the industry. In terms of AI-enabled solutions, the bank’s facial recognition solution, developed by Chapdex, the winning team from its first hackathon Code for Bank, helps it analyze and understand the feedback of its customers through their facial expressions. The solution is installed in the branch cameras and collects impressions of customers to identify if they are delighted from their bank visits or not.

The Fortune Global 500 bank has been also leveraging the benefits of SBI Intelligent Assistant (SIA), an AI-powered chat and voice assistant, to answer the customer queries promptly. Developed by Payjo, a startup based in Silicon Valley and Bengaluru, the solution has helped SBI reduce a considerable amount of operational costs since its launch in 2017. The solution interacts with customers to address queries and tasks related to everyday banking just like a bank representative.

The company has also recently entered into a pact with Microsoft to develop an AI-powered marketplace aimed at helping the banking, financial services, and insurance (BFSI) industry to connect people living with disabilities for upskilling and employment.

Axis Bank

Mumbai-based country’s third-largest bank, Axis Bank, has built two AI solutions that have made life easier for its customers. Its bot, ‘Simply Ask Axis Aha’ aims to bridge the gap between customers and the bank. Users can access the tool through Axis bank mobile app and use a conversational approach to transfer funds, pay bills, recharge, generate banking statements, or enquire about the latest Axis products and services. The bot acts as a conversational assistant to resolve queries of all kinds.

Very recently, Axis has deployed a voice-based conversational bot or automated voice assistant AXAA. The solution operates like a humanoid and claims to deliver far better results than a conventional interactive voice response (IVR) system. According to the company, the solution will assist customers to traverse through the IVR and address their queries and requests, without the need for any human intervention in most cases. Interestingly, the solution can converse in English, Hindi, and Hinglish, and has the potential to address about one lakh customer queries per day.

ICICI Bank

ICICI has been heavily focusing on AI-enabled robotic process automation (RPA) technology for process improvement. The RPA technology enables businesses to automate high-volume, tedious, and time-taking tasks that doesn’t require much human intervention. It has already deployed RPA technology on over 1,200 business processes such as customer onboarding, loan processing, and reconciliation, among others.

The bank also has and AI-powered Chatbot, iPal, that has recently been integrated with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. The solution provides an array of retail banking information such as account details, account balance, transaction queries, and credit card details among others through a simple voice command.

Though still at a nascent stage, and mostly restricted to chatbots, Indian banks are now experimenting with several new AI ideas to transform the traditional banking experience. In the next few years, the role of AI is expected to be evolved significantly. A special focus will be on developing customized solutions for customers and designing software based on cognitive fraud analytics. Punjab National Bank (PNB), for instance, has already deployed AI for reconciliation of accounts and to strengthen its internal audit control mechanisms. A number of banks are likely to use AI to detect suspicious activity. Through real-time behavior profiling, distrustful activities of banking users will be immediately reported and blocked for fraud prevention.

AI is a must now to speed up digital transformation

AI is a must now to speed up digital transformation

The history of humankind has also been the history of human intelligence and its continuous evolution. Ironically, this has enabled us to amass so much knowledge and information that it has become humanly difficult for us to process it in real time. Artificial intelligence aka AI is a must now.

Moreover, as we acquire new knowledge, we also tend to lose what we had gained in the past. This is a weakness inherent to us humans, but the digital information systems that we developed help us overcome that shortcoming amazingly well.

Today, we can store and retrieve knowledge at will. More importantly, we can store it in one form and retrieve it in another form. Speech recognition AI technologies have matured to remarkable levels today. One would simply record a conversation and transcribe it within minutes in a perfectly legible text form. Similarly, chatbot technologies are rapidly redefining the customer interfaces for many an organization.

AI is the new game changer

Artificial intelligence driven solutions are now playing a critical role in processing knowledge and utilizing the learnings to augment human activities.

These AI solutions help us shorten our response times to a situation, so that we are able to make the most of an opportunity and deal with a threat in the best possible manner.

However, the AI deployments are still in early stages, though it is hoped that the Covid-19 pandemic will accelerate these deployments. Specifically, technologies like speech recognition, chatbots, and robotic process automation (RPA) have rapidly matured in the recent years and are now ready for large-scale adoption.

Imagine what would have happened if all cities and governments were armed with sophisticated AI tools when the Covid-19 cases surfaced or were in their early stages of spread. It is quite likely that authorities would have been able to contain the spread before it spiraled out of control.

That brings us to the theme of digital transformation, which could accelerate widescale deployment and usage of AI solutions by governments, businesses, and citizens alike.

Transformation and agility – two sides of the same coin

Transformation could be accelerated by being agile. If you are agile, then you can transform quickly. And if you’re committed to transformation then you will be eager to embrace agility.

Organizations that had already advanced on the path of digital transformation, are today better prepared to adapt and respond to the challenges. Expectedly, they will also be the ones to recover faster than others.

Other businesses too must undertake rapid transformation routes to emerge truly nimble and agile if they were to survive a long and slow macroeconomic recovery cycle. Such an approach would enable them to respond to market situations in dynamic and resilient ways, create value for themselves and their customers, and muster growth and profitability in a sustainable manner.

Moreover, businesses could also leverage IT to change the shape of recovery curve to an extent and create greater value for their stakeholders as well as customers.

AI is the soul of future digital transformation initiatives

AI could significantly accelerate innovation and transformation. It is time to open up new streams of AI conversations that will help realign the digital transformation agenda of businesses to the changed needs of a post-pandemic era.

AI case studies and use cases already exist that could be adapted and used by organizations and governments. Leading organizations in areas such as banking, financial services, retail, logistics, healthcare, automobiles, e-marketplaces, and cybersecurity are already at the forefront of AI adoption. In the near future, while they work to further perfect and mature their AI applications, other organizations will be keen to catch up.

One good way to accelerate AI adoption would be to watch the early movers and learn from their successes and failures.

For instance, Mastercard has been an early mover. It introduced Decision Intelligence, a comprehensive decision and fraud detection service, in November 2016. According to Mastercard, the solution uses artificial intelligence technology to help financial institutions increase the accuracy of real-time approvals of genuine transactions and reduce false declines.

Similarly, AT&T, the world’s largest telecommunications company, has also been an early deployer. In December 2016, AT&T rolled out its entertainment chatbot Atticus.

In April 2017, Vodafone UK launched its AI chatbot, TOBi, powered by IBM Watson and LivePerson. The telco described it as a virtual customer services’ agent that could handle a range of customer queries including device troubleshooting, usage, and order tracking, among others.

The Covid-19 scenario has made a profound impact on the way people collaborate and work. In this situation, AI and ML will be the key navigational technologies to deliver results, and hence, are expected to be embraced widely by organizations of all scales.

[If you would like to share a use case and recommend it in the larger interest of other organizations, please drop me a word at deepakk@bmnxt.com.]

Tech M ties up with Hinduja CyQureX to up cybersecurity play

Tech M ties up with Hinduja CyQureX to up cybersecurity play

Tech Mahindra, a leading provider of digital transformation, consulting, and business reengineering services and solutions, has announced a global strategic partnership with a leading cybersecurity specialist. The aim is to offer superior cybersecurity solutions to support global clients as Tech M ties up with Hinduja CyQureX, which is a leading provider of advanced cybersecurity solutions worldwide.

The strategic partnership will enable the organizations to become leaders in the emerging ‘zero trust’ environment, leveraging CyQureX’s core Software Defined Perimeter (SDP) technology and solutions, alongside Tech Mahindra’s strategic focus on cybersecurity and other next-generation technologies. The partnership will enable their global customers to have access to state-of-the-art cyber security protection for data assets across the entire life cycle, i.e., “data in motion”, “data in use” and “data at rest.”

Leveraging its consulting and digital transformation expertise, Tech Mahindra will provide consulting, planning, designing, integration, orchestration, and automation of services. CyQureX, which represents a new and critical business vertical the Hinduja Group, with research and development centers in India and the USA and offices spread across the USA, the UK, Middle East and India, will prioritize capabilities in the ‘cyber security domain – the new middleware of the future.’

CP Gurnani, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Tech Mahindra, said, “Organisations have accelerated their digital transformation journey to emerge stronger and smarter from the current crisis. As a global leading provider of digital services, Tech Mahindra is committed towards leveraging new-age technologies to unleash new business opportunities and experiences for our customers and partner ecosystem through strategic partnerships and world class solutions. We see cybersecurity not only as an essential service but as a key business differentiator for our clients. The partnership with Hinduja Group’s CyQureX aligns with our core business proposition, and will further strengthen our position as the cybersecurity partner of choice for our customers globally

GP Hinduja, Co-Chairman, Hinduja Group noted, “This partnership is a game changer in the cyber security domain. It brings the leading security services company Tech Mahindra, and our newest technology company, CyQureX, together to create a highly secure, agile and resilient digital world. I am extremely delighted to see this strategic partnership formed, as it is in line with one of the core principles of our founder, Partnership for Growth. With rapid transformation of business to digital, we believe cybersecurity will be the cornerstone to protect all digital assets, particularly for digital transformation of India and other geographies. We are committed to develop many more indigenous state-of-the-art cyber security products and technologies in the coming years, with a vision to be a major global player in the emerging cyber security solutions market”.

“I am very excited about the alliance with Tech Mahindra,” added MK Narayanan, Executive Chairman of CyQureX, a Former National Security Advisor and Special Advisor on Intelligence and Security to the Prime Minister of India. “This is a critical alliance and I am hopeful that it will be the catalyst to leverage next generation technologies like Cyber Security, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and create Cyber Security platforms to protect businesses, critical infrastructure and government. It promises to take digitalisation to the next level, providing clients across the globe with fully integrated cyber security solutions.”

The strategic partnership between Tech Mahindra and Hinduja Group’s CyQureX will not only provide affordable protection to critical data, and defend nations against ‘stealth offences,’ but also provide cyber security solutions for agile deployment that are critically important for business continuity, competitiveness and flexibility. Together, given TechMNxt charter, which focuses on leveraging next-generation technologies, and Hinduja Group’s CyQureX as a leading provider of cyber security solutions, exciting new opportunities have become available in the world of cyber security. Simultaneously, Tech Mahindra and Hinduja Group’s CyQureX will work towards product development, consulting services and delivery in the cyber security space.

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