French ethical hacker Robert Baptiste, who goes by Elliot Alderson on Twitter and had last year flagged a security issue in the Aarogya Setu app, has now accused desi Twitter alternative Koo app of leaking user data. Baptiste tweeted “You asked so I did it. I spent 30 min on this new Koo app. The app is leaking the personal data of his users: email, dob, name, marital status, gender,…” However, Koo cofounder Aprameya Radhakrishna in his rebuttal to the development tweeted on Thursday that “the data visible is something that the user has voluntarily shown on their profile of Koo. It cannot be termed a data leak. If you visit a user profile you can see it anyway.”
Confronting Radhakrishna, Baptiste asserted that his claim of users making their data visible voluntarily “is a lie. I did check this point before tweeting and it was not true.” However, Radhakrishna in a separate tweet later added that 95 per cent of Koo users login through their mobile phone number. Language communities of India do not use email to login and hence was not the priority of the company and that email login was introduced recently. Now that concerns have been raised it has already been blocked from view, he added.
Interestingly, Koo in its earlier form known as Vokal – the vernacular question and answer app – India’s answer to Quora, had Chinese investor Shunwei Capital as one of its backers. Radhakrishna, who was among the 24 app winners of the Atmanirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge announced last year, assured in another tweet that “Koo is an India registered company with Indian founders,” and that the Chinese investor will be exiting the company. “Raised earlier capital 2.5 years ago. The latest funds for Bombinate Technologies is led by a truly Indian investor 3one4 capital. Shunwei (single digit shareholder) which had invested in our Vokal journey will be exiting fully.”
Koo has gained immediate prominence in the past few days on the back of conflict between Twitter and the government with respect to the ongoing farmers’ protests. Launched in March last year, the app has already crossed 3 million downloads and had 7,460 followers on Twitter at the time of filing this report. Multiple public figures from politics, entertainment, and other fraternities such as Anupam Kher, Kangana Ranaut, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Piyush Goyal, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, etc., and ministries and government departments such as Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Digital India, Digi Locker, India Post, National Informatics Centre (NIC), National Institute of Electronics & Information Technology (NIELIT), MyGov, etc., had joined Koo as a call to promote Made in India products and services and promote Atmanirbhar vision.
Koo had raised $4.1 million as part of its Series A funding earlier this month from the early-stage venture capital firm 3one4 Capital. Accel Partners, Kalaari Capital, Blume Ventures, and Dream Incubator were other investors in the round. Koo allows people to express themselves in native their languages and focuses on non-English speaking internet base in the country. Apart from Koo, startups such as Tooter, Elyments, Namaste Bharat, Indian Messenger had emerged in the past as alternatives to Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp. Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurved had also tried its hands at social networking with its own Kimbho app in 2018 but the plan didn’t take off amid privacy concerns.