TECH

Snapchat, Silicon Valley And Indian Outrage

Beware, the prickly Indian.

18/04/2017 4:18 PM IST | Updated 18/04/2017 5:14 PM IST
Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

Social media was inflamed by outrage as soon as reports of Snapchat CEO's comments on India being a poor country surfaced online. Evan Speigel who became a billionaire by listing Snap Inc on the stock exchange had allegedly said, "This app is only for rich people. I don't want to expand into poor countries like India and Spain."

Of course, no one had actually heard the comment being made except for an ex-Snapchat employee named Anthony Pompliano who claimed that Speigel had said it in 2015. Pompliano, who was fired from Snapchat for non-performance, has sued the Silicon Valley company for showing fake numbers to investors. By the time these details surfaced many Indians, including celebrities were expressing outrage at Snapchat and its CEO.

The #BoycottSnapchat trend started on Twitter and people were leaving bad ratings and reviews on the Google Play Store and the App Store. So much so, that Snapchat's rating on App Store was reduced to a single star.

Snap Inc. has denied the allegations but by then the outrage had taken a hilarious and farcical turn. In a case of mistaken identity, many angry but unaware people had started down-rating the Indian e-commerce platform Snapdeal's app. In 2015, the same e-commerce app had been down-rated to 1-star by outraged users because of then brand ambassador Aamir Khan's 'unpatriotic' comments.

Some Indians then began abusing Speigel's fiance, actress Miranda Kerr on Instagram. This was reminiscent of Anushka Sharma being trolled over her boyfriend, cricketer Virat Kohli's, poor on-field performance. Dragging of spouse, partner or girlfriend into a matter that they have nothing to do with is of course entirely uncalled for.

Also, there is the question of India being "poor" still in the air. If we ignore, "We made James Bond sell paan masala" and "Ambani will buy Snapchat" meme, poverty on a massive scale exists in India. According to a report last year, 30 percent of our country's population is living under the poverty line.

Having said that, India is not really lagging when it comes to smartphones and technology. There are currently over 300 million smartphone users in India. An Akamai report predicts that the Internet user-base in India would be around 730 million by 2020. There is no reason for any tech company to think that India is not a good market for its wares. Companies such as Apple, Amazon, and Uber have made major investments here and India is home to IT companies of global repute such as Wipro, Infosys, and TCS.

A case is made about ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) being low in India. While ARPU in the network sector is surely low in India, the consumer here can and does spend more on services.

While Indian outrage towards tech firms or any foreign entity that utters anything critical about the country can go overboard, on occasion the outrage has been merited.

"Folks were rather locked up at home. Now you can see people go out, especially on the weekend. You just press a button and the car is there," said Christian Freese, the general manager at Uber's Bengaluru office. This generalisation about Indians' propensity to be homebodies had riled many people.

Earlier last year, Facebook board of director and founder of the Andreessen-Horowitz firm, Marc Andreessen, remarked that "anti-colonisation" had been economically catastrophic for India. Andreessen later deleted his comments and apologised.

There have been other instances of individuals in Silicon Valley being insensitive towards people and cultures. Om Malik, formerly of GigaOM, has written about the lack of empathy in Silicon Valley. So, while there is no gainsaying that Indians often tend to get outraged for no reason, perhaps a little introspection is in order for Silicon Valley techies, with their vast reach and scope of influence, too.

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