As the Indian government remains locked in a battle with Twitter over its demand for suspension of accounts, which, it says, has spread misinformation about the protest of farmers, on an Indian micro-blogging site called Koo, government officials and ministries have set up accounts. It operates just like Twitter, but Koo provides the option for users to write text in many Indian languages.
Koo was one of the winners of a competition to find alternatives to Chinese apps initiated by the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in July last year. Under the “social” classification, Koo won along with two other apps. In his Mann Ki Baat radio address in August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi listed Koo while announcing the winners. The app didn’t quite make it big until now, though. Modi, however, has yet to join Koo and continues to be active on Twitter.
In February this year, Twitter declined to block the government’s pages. Several ministers called for it, making a beeline for the Indian option. Today, Minister of Commerce Piyush Goyal, Minister of Law and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Environment Prakash Javadekar, and Chief Minister of Karnataka B.S. Among some of the famous politicians who have joined the forum is Yediyurappa, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Member of Parliament Tejasvi Surya, and BJP IT cell chief Amit Malviya. Several government agencies, including the ministry of electronics, the ministry of railways, India Post, MyGovIndia, Digital India, and NITI Aayog, too, are on Koo. Some media houses have joined as well, such as PIB India, OTV News, NewsX TV, Republic TV.
The website has seen a significant number of downloads as a result. The co-founder of Koo, Mayank Bidawatka, told PTI that this month the platform crossed the 3 million mark. Previously, it had 2 million users, with about 1.5 million active users. There are about 17.5 million Indian users on Twitter.
Koo accomplished another major achievement earlier in February. From a clutch of investors, including from an organization backed by former Infosys CFO Mohandas Pai, it raised $4.1 million. Accel Partners, Kalaari Capital, Blume Ventures and Dream Incubator are among Koo’s current investors. Koo’s co-founder Aprameya Radhakrishna tweeted a Chinese company, Shunwei Capital, which had invested in another venture by the same company that now runs Koo, will be exiting completely.
Radhakrishna and Bidawatka, MBA graduates, who had both invested in several companies before launching Koo, formed Koo in March 2020. TaxiForSure, an aggregator of car rentals and taxis, was founded by Radhakrishna in 2010. He sold it in 2015 to Ola Cabs. Bidawatka co-founded Vokal India, an app that functions in much the same way as Quora, the influential question and answer website. Vokal enables users to communicate in languages that are vernacular.
One of its selling points is Koo, which is accessible in many Indian languages. “to connect with Indians in Indian languages”to connect with Indians. It is possible to use Koo on a computer (website) or on a mobile app. It is accessible from the app stores of Google and Apple and you can sign in with your phone number. English, Kannada, Tamil, Marathi and Telegu are currently sponsored by Koo. Help for Bengali, Gujarati, Oriya, Malayalam, Punjabi and Assamese is also in the works, according to their website. A user can write up to 400 characters of text, more than the 280 characters allowed by Twitter. All multimedia features, including audio and video recording, are also provided by Koo.
There have, however, been questions about the safety of users’ data on the site. An ethical hacker, who goes by the name Elliot Anderson on Twitter, reported that he could extrapolate confidential details, such as the date of birth of a user, marital status, even if the user on the site could not make it accessible to the public.
Radhakrishna said, in answer to the concerns posed by the hacker,
“We’re attempting to do something for our country, India. All help is appreciated. If you want to help out in this journey of ours please write to me on firstname.lastname@example.org and we can take a look at all the feedback you have. Thanks!”
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