Google Vs Paytm: How to make your battle the world’s battle

This Week in Disruptive Tech | September 23, 2020: A roundup of news and perspectives on how technology is shaping the future, here in India and across the world

N S Ramnath

[Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay]

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How to make your battle the world’s battle

What’s the news: Last week, Google removed Paytm, a payments app with 39 million daily active users, from its play store for having a cashback feature linked to fantasy sports, which is against the rules of the play store. A few hours later, Paytm removed the contentious feature and it was back in the store. That's the news. But, you wouldn't believe that was all to it if you were following the breathless coverage in the media.

Why you should care:

  • Paytm founder Vijay Sekhar Sharma quickly turned it into an Us Vs Them narrative: As soon as the app was out of the store, Sharma, who has been under heat for Paytm’s Chinese funding, went on the offensive. He called up tech journalists to express his indignation. Some of that was visible in television interviews—here and here. He said Google was arm twisting Paytm, just as it arm twisted other Indian startups in the past. Soon, he gave the impression that he was speaking for all the startups. This is extremely against the atmanirbhar app ecosystem that we are building, he said. Some bought into this narrative in part because Google Pay competes with Paytm.  
  • This is not the first time Indian startups have attempted to shape an Us Vs Them narrative: In 2016/2017, the media was abuzz with concerns around ‘digital colonisation’, an emotive word in India with its colonial past. It was pushed, among others, by Ola Cabs’ co-founder Bhavish Aggarwal, even as Ola was facing increasing competition from Uber. (Aggarwal displayed the same lack of irony that Sharma does now, for Ola was also primarily funded by foreign capital.)
  • The world needs to fix Big Tech. But it’s a different battle. Big Tech—Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent, etc—have a whole range of well-documented problems. The US Congress recently pulled them for questioning. They are facing the heat. Public awareness about the issues is going up, in part because of reiterating “something you've heard many times, but with ominous background music.”. But, it cannot be fixed by someone who breaks a rule, and insists he hasn’t broken any rule; but by someone who breaks a rule to make the point that the rule was unfair. The recent episode doesn’t pass that test.

Dig Deeper:

  • Payments giant Paytm says Google’s Android monopoly is of grave concern to Indian startups - CNBC

How to fight misinformation

[Image by www_slon_pics from Pixabay]

What’s the news: YouTube, which adds 500 hours of video every minute on its platform, and has 2 billion monthly logged-in users, said it has gone back to using more people—rather than machines—to moderate content on its platform

Why you should care:

  • Solving misinformation is a big problem: It might be tempting to stop with the observation that machines aren’t quite there when it comes to judgement. In this case, for example, algorithms were overdoing it. They took down 11 million videos between April and June, two times more compared to when there was human intervention. There were over 320,000 appeals for restoration. YouTube agreed to restore half of them, while earlier, only a quarter passed the appeal. But, these numbers also show that the magnitude of the problem has grown significantly. That should not be surprising, because polarisation defines every single issue these days, and misinformation is a direct outcome of polarisation.
  • It can’t be solved by humans alone: Again, contrary to what YouTube’s decision might suggest, we can’t go for a ‘let’s use more humans’ strategy. Moderating content can take a huge toll. Consider this paragraph from an excellent story on content moderators from last year: “Li, who worked as a moderator for about a year, was one of several employees who said the workplace was rife with pitch-black humour. Employees would compete to send each other the most racist or offensive memes, he said, in an effort to lighten the mood… ‘We were doing something that was darkening our soul—or whatever you call it,’ he says. ‘What else do you do at that point? The one thing that makes us laugh is actually damaging us. I had to watch myself when I was joking around in public. I would accidentally say [offensive] things all the time—and then be like, Oh shit, I’m at the grocery store. I cannot be talking like this.’”
  • Companies are under growing pressure to show they are doing something about it: David Morar and Bruna Martins dos Santos point out that there has been a flurry of legislation around it. In 2017, Germany passed the Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) law. In May this year, France passed its “Fighting hate on the Internet” law. A month later, Brazil passed its “Law of Freedom, Liability, and Transparency on the Internet”. The US is debating its “Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act of 2019”. 

Dig Deeper:

  • YouTube reverts to human moderators in fight against misinformation - FT
  • The push for content moderation legislation around the world - Brookings
  • The Trauma Floor: The secret lives of Facebook moderators in America - The Verge

How to restore human vision

[Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay]

What’s the news: Researchers at Australia’s Monash University have developed a device that can restore vision. They are now preparing for human clinical trials.

Why you should care:

  • It underlines the progress in brain-computer interface technology. Many clinically blind people cannot see because their optic nerve, which takes the signals from eyes to the vision centre of the brain, are damaged. The device is a substitute for that system. A video camera (eye) captures the images, a vision processor extracts useful information, and the data is transmitted wirelessly to a set of tiles implanted in the brain. It has already been tested on sheep.
  • It’s a part of a larger trend. In 2017, MIT Technology Review reported that a company called Second Sight developed a similar technology involving a camera, processor and electrodes that stimulate the brain. Researchers at Harvard Medical School were testing a similar device on monkeys. 
  • It shows why Elon Musk’s Neuralink is more mainstream than is commonly believed. When Musk showcased some of the developments in his brain-computer interface company, some expressed fears that we might be crossing the line, messing with the brain. But, applications like this, offering specific and significant benefit, will change the way the general public views the technology.

Dig Deeper

Quick Hits

  • Geobacter—a ubiquitous, groundwater-dwelling genus of bacteria—swallow up organic waste and “exhale” electrons, generating a tiny electric current in the process. - Live Science 
  • The driver behind the wheel of an autonomous Uber car that fatally struck an Arizona woman has been charged with negligent homicide. - NPR
  • Researchers led by Dipanjan Pan, a professor at University of Maryland Baltimore County, have come up with a new method to produce gold nanoparticles in cancer cells, and help kill the tumour - UMBC news  
  • Gait analysis has been around for years, but now it is going mainstream. China is using it to track its citizens. Transport companies want to use it to identify ticket holders. Doctors say an analysis of your strides might provide an early hint of health problems.  - New Scientist 
  • The new Series 6 Apple Watch can measure people's blood oxygen levels in 15 seconds. It is collaborating with researchers to see if it can be used to catch early signs of influenza and Covid-19. - CNET 

About the author

N S Ramnath
N S Ramnath

Senior Writer

Founding Fuel

NS Ramnath is a senior writer and part of the core team at Founding Fuel, and co-author of the book, The Aadhaar Effect. His main interests lie in technology, business, society, and how they interact and influence each other. He writes a regular column on disruptive technologies, and takes regular stock of key news and perspectives from across the world. 

Ram, as everybody calls him, experiments with newer story-telling formats, tailored for the smartphone and social media as well, the outcomes of which he shares with everybody on the team. It then becomes part of a knowledge repository at Founding Fuel and is continuously used to implement and experiment with content formats across all platforms. 

He is also involved with data analysis and visualisation at a startup, How India Lives.

Prior to Founding Fuel, Ramnath was with Forbes India and Economic Times as a business journalist. He has also written for The Hindu, Quartz and Scroll. He has degrees in economics and financial management from Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning.

He tweets at @rmnth and spends his spare time reading on philosophy.