Our Privacy is Shit And You Know It

privacy in India

Privacy is one of those things we don’t talk about a lot in India. Every now and then there’s a small debate in some corner of the social web, where concerned citizens get together and discuss how our privacy is shit. It’s clear by now that we don’t have any major privacy laws in the country.

Things will only get worse from here. More people are signing up for internet access, the government itself wants to promote the vision of a digital India, and more internet connectivity is exploding thanks to the current 4G LTE wave. You’d imagine by now we would have a serious discussion regarding our privacy. But no.

All of us are up for sale on the internet. If you have ever purchased anything online, chances are you are very likely to be on some sort of database that’s up for grabs. These databases sell for anywhere between Rs.5,000-Rs.15,000 depending on the weight. The details include names, addresses, primary cell phone numbers, preferred mode of payment, and even mode of transaction with amount.

Websites are openly selling user data at a flat price.

That’s a lot of sensitive information. Sometimes that’s all you need to break into someone’s account using basic social engineering skills. Now the question is who is leaking all these details? It could be the e-commerce companies, logistics partners, or third-party service providers to e-commerce companies. The points of leaks can be endless.

Local e-commerce companies treat your personal data like it doesn’t matter. Someone I knew in the industry, who worked in marketing, was regularly given dumps of customer data for manual segmentation. There was nothing in place to prevent him to take home all this sensitive information, and sell outside. Then there are logistics partners which ask for customer details like phone numbers during delivery.

Last year a market research firm reached out to me, saying they were doing a survey for Paytm. On being asked if Paytm shared my personal details with them, the person on the other end politely declined. I don’t even know what’s going on anymore.

The offline world isn’t any better. Most offline retail stores now ask for a phone number while checking out. They do this to send you text messages every now and then. Then there are loyalty programs at retail stores, petrol pumps, and all across. All this data finds its way into databases that are up for grabs.

Once the spamming begins there’s no DND (do not disturb) in the world to make it stop. These spammers find loopholes there too. Another area where this information gets misused is to steal users’ identity. Getting personal information makes it super easy for just about anyone to break into your personal accounts, be it a social networking website or a financial entity.

With the government expanding its coverage of Aadhaar, it’s only obvious for them to come up with privacy laws. Apart from protecting the rights of its citizens, it can also help instil a level of confidence amongst everyone for government projects like UID.

The same problems exist with privacy regarding Aadhaar. The ways in which both government and non-government entities are collecting Aadhaar numbers and putting them up on the web makes it a nightmare for everyone. Some educational institutions also go to the extent of uploading highly sensitive information like phone numbers, bank account numbers, Aadhaar number, etc. It’s only a matter of time before Aadhaar based databases go up on sale.

Privacy is shit, no doubt. What can one do about it? Not much. You can ensure you don’t buy online on shady websites. You could give out fake numbers at retail stores. But all this isn’t really bulletproof. One way or the other you’re likely to fall into their trap because nothing is keeping these guys scared from doing what they do.

Why Should Anyone Buy An Apple Watch?

This is probably the biggest question on anyone’s mind right now — why should you buy an Apple Watch? Personally, I was looking to find an answer during Apple’s launch keynote earlier this week. Apple did demonstrate a few apps, and some other features of the Apple Watch, but then again the problem with Apple is extremely high, and most unrealistic, expectations.

Where is the “wow” factor about the Apple Watch?

If Apple hadn’t revealed the Apple Watch earlier, and if it was first-time announcement this week, I think I’d still be looking for ways to save up some money to buy one. Apple did kill some of the excitement one generally has for a new Apple product but announcing it a little earlier than usual.

But then Apple products are almost never an impulse buy for anyone. Prospective customers watch videos, read lengthy reviews, and talk to existing customers before buying just about anything now. With an Apple product it becomes all the more important simply due to their higher than normal pricing.

Apple Watch is more of an expensive iPhone accessory than a standalone product. You can certainly live without one. Can it make you spend your hard earned money to find a place on your wrist? Not initially, no. The second iteration of Apple Watch would be an interesting piece of hardware. The Apple Watch 2 would have a solid foundation when it comes to apps, and an improvement over the first Watch using all the feedback the initial customers generate.

Unlike an iPhone, the Apple Watch will not be subsidised. That makes it nearly half the price of an unlocked iPhone in the US. For other countries like India, where carriers do not subsidise devices, we’re already used to paying full prices for our iPhones.

The typical price for an Apple Watch in India is going to be somewhere around Rs.30,000-35,000 for the entry level variants. Let’s not even go towards the $10,000 Apple Watch Edition with all the bling, and same functionality. People had only recently gotten used to spending more than Rs.40,000 for a high-end smartphone, and low-cost Android smartphone makers have shattered that price point as well.

The first Apple Watch is certainly going to be a luxury, especially in India. The high price, matched with a high customs import duty, is going to make it difficult to sell here. The only saving grace for the Apple Watch in India is once the apps start driving usage. I’m not saying it won’t sell, there are a lot of people with money. I’m just saying it’s going to take some time for Indians to get used to the smartwatch phenomenon.

Apple Watch In India — Will they buy?

Apple finally launched its first ever smartwatch last night. The Apple Watch looks beautiful, does a few things well, and costs quite a lot as compared to other smartwatches in the market. There’s no doubt Apple will end up selling millions of these smartwatches during the launch weekend, the only question on my mind is — will Apple Watch sell in India?

Apple Watch is currently a luxury. Much like the first mobile phones when they launched. Everyone with a landline at their home saw the first mobile phone as a high-end luxury they wouldn’t mind having. But it’s not something they couldn’t live without. And then it happened. Mobile phones got more affordable, everyone started using them, and now we can’t live without them.

Can the same happen with smartwatches? It’s not highly unlikely given the fact that we’re so hooked to our smartphones already. Down the road, we could switch to an Apple Watch or another smartwatch to avoid getting those looks for taking out your smartphone at the dinner table every time it beeps.

In India, Apple Watch’s pricing would be a lot different. So far the import duties on mobile phones have been at an acceptable 6%, and they’ve now been bumped up to around 12%. That’s the reason Apple had to increase prices of its iPhones recently. The import duty for watches is around 30%. That’s massive.

To convince anyone in India to invest in an Apple Watch at those prices is going to be hard. Unless someone has a clear set of use cases, and a lot of money in the bank (which is pretty much every Apple customer in the world), I don’t see why a lot of people would be excited about getting it in India. Moreover you’ll need an iPhone to use the Apple Watch, so it’s more like a bundled purchase in case you’re in the Android or Windows Phone territory right now.

However don’t leave India out of the equation just yet. We’re one of the biggest markets for smartphones right now, with adoption charts going off the roof. Mobile internet connectivity is still in the dumps though, and there’s hope that mobile operators would really do something about it but let’s not go there right now. The cheapest Apple Watch in India would cost somewhere around Rs.30,000-35,000. That’s quite a lot if you ask me.

Xiaomi Announces New Flagship Smartphone Mi 4 And An Affordable Fitness Band

 

Xiaomi, dubbed as the Apple of China, today announced its new flagship smartphone — Mi 4 — packed with obvious hardware improvements, in a metallic case, topped with a sugary price tag. Xiaomi’s CEO Lei Jun launched the smartphone at an event for the members of the press, and select audience. The company also announced its first fitness band at the event.

The new Mi 4 features a 5-inch 1080p display. The smartphone is powered by a 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC comprising of a quad-core processor, supported by 3GB of RAM. The phone runs on a 3080mAh battery which is just about enough to make it last for a day on medium usage, and a day and a half on normal usage, according to the company.

There’s a 13MP primary camera at the back, along with an 8MP front-front-facing camera which is quite capable of making selfies a bit more high on quality. The phone comes with 16GB of on-board memory for the base model. There’s a 64GB variant as well, and both these variants will have further 3G and 4G sub-models.

Mi 4 will retail for around $322 in China for the 16GB model while the 64GB model will be priced at around $403. The 3G variants of the Mi 4 will be available on July 29 this year while the 4G version is likely to hit stores by September. There’s still no word on availability outside China as of now. We’re assuming Xiaomi wants to tap the Chinese market first before taking the phone overseas.

The company claims that the Mi 4 is its fastest smartphone ever, and probably one of the fastest phones out there. The company’s CEO made a special mention of how the company worked hard on the Mi 4’s design, and adapted the overall design and user experience to make optimum use of the battery power so that the phone can last a little longer than the usual time.

Xiaomi may have surprised everyone in the smart wearables market today. The company announced its very first smart wearable device at the Mi 4 launch event. Titled Mi Band, the first fitness band from Xiaomi costs merely $13, probably making it one of the cheapest fitness bands ever.

The Mi Band lasts 30 days on battery, and is waterproof according to the IP67 standard. The smart wearable can monitor physical activities, track a user’s sleep time period, and can serve as an alarm as well. The band can also unlock a Xiaomi phone without a password when it is present in close proximity to the device. Surprisingly the company hasn’t revealed any timeline for the availability of the Mi Band for now. Considering that price tag, we’re pretty sure it’ll get sold out quickly.

Xiaomi is making its mark in countries other than China as well. The company recently launched in India after extending its market by launching in Singapore earlier this year. The company had earlier announced that it has managed to sell a little over 26 million smartphones in the first half of 2014. That’s more than the entire number of smartphones it sold last year. Xiaomi is known to sell its inventory in a matter of minutes after availability is announced.

Source: webcast

Image source: www.mi.com

To Uber, or not?

I remember the first time I came to know about radio cabs, I felt an instant connection. The ability to call for a cab, anytime and anywhere, and with a promise of well behaved English speaking cab drivers, it made everything feel so good. I think Chandigarh was one of the first few cities to experience radio cabs.

Even though they were more expensive here, it felt like a convenience no one else could offer. Fast forward several years into the smartphone-filled scenario, taxi apps like Uber, Ola, Taxi for Sure, and others took things to the next level. Being able to call for a cab right from the app itself, to tracking the current location, and even getting a decent discount on the whole trip — it was just too good.

But then we’re not really living a perfect world. Are we? This happened, and all hell broke loose. The incident shed light on how taxi app companies had discovered a major loophole, and were operating without following proper legal procedures. Delhi, and now even Chandigarh, have started banning these app based taxi services.

The Delhi Police officials claimed they didn’t know about the app before the incident. To make matter worse, Uber doesn’t even run a call centre necessary to ensure proper customer support. The cops had to install the app, demand a cab, and then asked the cab driver to take them to the company’s offices. That’s sad.

Uber isn’t new to controversies in the country. Earlier the company was accused to bypassing the mandatory two-factor authentication according to regulations laid down by the Reserve Bank of India. Uber did manage to get a lot of attention that time, and even some support from users who claimed that it was a dick move on other radio cabs’ part to accuse Uber.

The latest incident, and the subsequent ban has put Uber, and other taxi app based companies in the limelight. These companies have put in a significant investment across the country, and they will do their best to comply by the regulations. But when they do, after some time, will people still trust them? Will you trust them for a late-night ride while all alone?

Xiaomi And Micromax Leave Samsung Behind In Key Markets — China and India

 

China and India are two hot markets for smartphone buyers, and manufacturers. We’ve seen a lot of interesting trends lately, but most of them have been about the exploding adoption of smartphones across these two countries. Now it seems like the once powerful Samsung is taking a hit.

Xiaomi, dubbed as the Apple of China, has left Samsung behind to become the biggest smartphone maker in the country. In a similar fashion, India’s Micromax has now become the leading mobile phone company in India, a place previously occupied by Samsung. Xiaomi’s numbers have been reported by a market search firm Canalys, while Counterpoint has validated the Micromax statistics.

Canalys said, in a report it released today, that Xiaomi sold a total of 15 million smartphones during the second quarter of this year, in China. That’s an increase of three times the number of phones it sold over last year. Meanwhile Samsung managed to sell only 13.2 million smartphone units in the same quarter, compared to the 15.5 units it sold last year.

The numbers speak for themselves. China is currently the world’s largest smartphone market, with 4 out of every 10 smartphones being sold there itself. Xiaomi isn’t well known in the European countries or North America, but it is quite popular there in China. The company has always managed to sell its stock in a record time, all in an online flash sale. Currently Apple and Samsung are the only non-Chinese smartphone brands in the list of top 10 smartphone sellers in the country.

Meanwhile the market in India is growing at a rapid rate. Indians were quick enough to adopt mobile phones, and are now switching to smartphones at a much quicker rate. The smartphone segment, according to a report by Counterpoint, grew by 68% annually as the demand for feature phones went down by 16% in the second quarter of 2014.

Micromax has become the leading mobile phone supplier in India for the first time ever, leaving behind Samsung by attaining a 17% market share, up from its previous 13% in the first quarter of 2014. Micromax also became the second largest smartphone vendor in the country. The competition is expected to heat up further with the entry of Xiaomi in the country.

It’s quite evident what Samsung is facing. There’s an expected slowdown in the technology sector unless companies are ready to take a leap of faith, and launch innovative products every new cycle. The Korean electronics giant needs to go back to the drawing board, and make some radical changes in crafting new products to beat these regional companies.

Source: Reports

Image source: www.mi.com

Developers Submit 36 Apps in 24 Hours At India’s Aadhaar Hackathon

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India’s unique identity project Aadhaar has successfully enrolled millions of citizens, and continues to add thousands by the day. In a hackathon organised by the Aadhaar project, a number of teams comprising of student developers mainly, successfully built around 36 apps in a first ever event of its kind for the project.

In the 24 hours of the hackathon, developers built apps around the Aadhar project aimed at solving problems while adding more value to the Aadhar project for citizens. These apps make use of the unique identity number assigned to each citizen in the country under the project. The basic purpose of establishing the project in the first place was to be able to offer social and economic services seamlessly across the country using a single layer of validation, that is the Aadhar card number.

The contest was won by a team of developers from the Vellore Institute of Technology. Their application titled ‘Aadhaaritory’ allows users to keep record of their medical history, and share them with doctors using their Aadhaar card numbers. The app is based on the idea of enabling easy access of past medical records across the country. The winners were allowed to interact with the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, Mr. Vinod Khosla.

The event was organised by Khosla’s startup incubator called Khosla Labs along with Nasscom. The hackathon invited around 1800 registrations out of which 140 individual developers were selected, and were assigned into 40 teams. The developers were selecting using a simple programming skills test.

Before the hackathon, students were trained on how they can integrate their apps with Aadhaar. Most of the developers at the event had never worked on Aadhar before. The runners up to the contest build an app called Aadhar Box, a cloud based document storing facility that can store and share verified documents from Aadhar.

India is a growing market for mobile application development, with a majority of the development involved in outsourcing. Events like these will not only promote state-owned projects but they will also help promote mobile application development skills amongst students in the country. More events like this will be organised in the near future to promote more ideas for developing mobile apps for Aadhar.

Amazon Launches Marketplace In India

amazon india

After months of speculations, intense fear in the Indian e-commerce space and possible conspiracy theories – Amazon has finally launched its marketplace in India. Amazon cannot directly sell as of now but it’s a start. And I’d say a good one. It’s obvious the company has spent a lot of time before jumping towards the launch, especially from all the work that went into Junglee.

Junglee probably connected Amazon to a ridiculous number of sellers – both online and offline. No wonder you can find multiple sellers for almost every product listed on Amazon. While that’s an obvious thing for any marketplace, it shows how sellers are confident Amazon will bring them profits.
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An Xbox One For The Third World

xbox one

I’m not much of a gamer. There, I said it. Last year I bought an Xbox 360 for my little brother for his sheer hard work (and my pending promises). I used to play around with it every time I came back home for a vacation but couldn’t get myself used to the controls. I used to feel like an old man, trying to get used to that wireless game controller. First person shooters became a messy affair. All I could do was a little bit of car racing, but even that seemed like hard enough for me.

Anyways I moved back home sometime last year and started getting serious with the Xbox 360. Turns out it wasn’t really that hard. I decided to order Bioshock Infinite (all that hype!) and see if I can get around with it. It wasn’t bad after all, I really liked the game. And for a fact I was once ahead of my little brother in an Xbox game. That’s plenty of achievements unlocked right there. Xbox 360 is a great gaming console and, although I haven’t spent much time with its competitors, I think Microsoft has some serious potential here, especially with PC sales on a free-fall.
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Buying On Flipkart? Wait A Second…

flipkart

The days are finally here. Flipkart has finally started showing multiple vendors for products on its site. This brings Flipkart from being a simple online retailer to a huge marketplace with a massive customer base. The company has been ironing out a few legal kinks recently, as I’ve been told, and this is also a part of the company’s “expansion” strategy.

For the consumer it means that you’ll be able to choose from multiple vendors for a single product. Now this is where it gets tricky. Each vendor can offer their own price for any particular product. Also, every vendor has their own feedback (registered by customers) just like the ones you see on eBay, replacement policy (very different from the usual Flipkart policy), shipping times and terms of service.

So the next time you buy a product on Flipkart and wonder why it sucked or didn’t ever arrive on time – blame it on these vendors. Flipkart has set very high standards for online retailers and these vendors are going to screw things up. No matter how hard Flipkart pulls their ears with service contracts and guidelines, things are about to turn sour.

You have been warned.