The promising Indian education technology startup WhiteHat Jr, an online coding platform for kids recently have been in the news for all wrong reasons by allegedly silencing their critics all over the Internet.
In August, the ed-tech master of Indian Market BYJU’s acquired WhiteHat Jr by sealing a deal of 300 million dollars (Rs 2,223 crore). Following the pandemic and new education policy wave which focuses on skill development at initial age, BYJU’s aims to expand its market, found WhiteHat Jr as a golden wager. However, trouble soon started knocking on the door when critics raised suspicion on WhiteHat Jr marketing tactics and credibility.
WhiteHat Jr criticised for marketing strategies:
Massive social media advertisement which ultimately turned into memes:
After the acquisition by BYJU’s, the digital marketing cost of WhiteHat Jr have increased tremendously. The constant exposure to advertisements has led reaction on social media with people turning the acquisition-deal into memes. As per a report published by Economics Times, media planners state that WhiteHat Jr might be spending approximately between 10-15 crores in advertising on digital media platforms.
The promising WhiteHat Jr advertisements are being criticised and trolled by Twitterati for its capitalist incentive nature:
According to a report by Exchange4Media, presently, WhiteHat Jr has over 4 million subscribers worldwide, of whom around 1 lakh students are paid subscribers.
Rival Coding Platform Teckie accused WhiteHat Jr for unethical practices:
Tekie co-founder Naman Mukund, in a LinkedIn post, claimed that an employee of WhiteHat Jr attended its classes by impersonating a grade six student and copied their content and model of teaching.
Mr Naman posted on LinkedIn and Teckie shared a youtube video surfacing as alleged evidence. Here is the said video.
2.8 Lakh student’s and teacher’s data leaked:
WhiteHat Jr has found to allow access to personal data of 2.8 lakh students and teachers vulnerable to several leaks, thereby risking the security and privacy.
The Quint story indicates that the sever allowed open access to the data, including student names, age, gender, images, user IDs, parents name, and progress reports to outsiders.
Following the publication and coverage of data invasion threats, WhiteHat Jr spokesperson “clarified “there were no data leaks, exposures, or breach and we reviewed our setup and worked to patch specifically identified vulnerabilities within 24 hours.”
Karan Bajaj, CEO of WhiteHat Jr, recently logged a Rs 20 crore defamation case against Pradeep Poonia, ex-product manager at ed-tech firm NextEducation, who goes by the pseudonym, WhiteHat Sr. He has fiercely criticised the company for its illicit marketing tactics, the nature of the courses on the platform, and aggressive actions against criticism which should be taken as healthy feedback.
In a story covered by the Indian feed, Mr Poonia said “So I will talk about edtech startups. What WhiteHatJr and BYJU’s are doing is selling what’s out there for free already. There is no value in their product; they create a false demand for their products via urgency pitches in their sales calls, and false advertisements trying to fool gullible kids.”
In the lawsuit, Mr Poonia had been accused of infringing trademarks and copyright of properties owned by WhiteHat Jr, defaming and spreading misleading information about the startup and its founder, and accessing the company’s private communications app.
Mr Poonia accused the firm of getting two of his Reddit accounts, a Twitter handle, a Quora account, and a LinkedIn account suspended over-posting on WhiteHat Jr.
The tussle between self-acclaimed whistler bowler Mr Poonia and WhiteHat Jr commenced with a video posted by him “Who is Wolf Gupta” to bring out alleged unethical practices of the firm. Wolf Gupta is a kid (whose age is apparently changing in different advertisement ) was widely advertised by WhiteHat Jr as having secured jobs with companies like Google and Apple for astronomical salaries.
The advertisement was pulled down after eight months as the legal hearing commenced. Mr Poonia accused WhiteHat Jr for making a fictional character of Wolf Gupta with no disclaimer of him being imaginary anywhere.
Pradeep Poonia Lawyer’s words:
Sukumar: I am yet to come across any disclaimer till the date the plaint is filed, that Wolf Gupta is a fictional character. They are duping the public. #WhiteHatJr
To this, even Delhi High Court noted that such a character would have an impact on Child psychology. Further, Delhi High Court passed ad interim favouring BYJU’s owned WhiteHat Jr and asked Mr Poonia to remove derogatory 12 tweets an 4 videos. The case will further progress on January 6 hearing.
On Monday, WhiteHat Jr, filed a similar case of 14 crore defamation charges against Aniruddha Malpani, an investor who has been a constant critic of the startup and their practices.
The systematic harassment by #WhiteHatJr to try to silence honest criticism against them continues ! They have now filed a case against me, suing me for Rs 14 crores ! Fortunately for me, truth is a strong defence against an allegation of defamation !https://t.co/scGU6VGNg2
In the defamation case against Mr Poonia, which is calming media’s attention made Mr Bajaj’s lawyer state “When you’re out to be a crusader, please remember that your freedom ends where my nose begins,” reported by Live Law.
Rao states that while Poonia may not be making money, he is using WhiteHat Jr's content.
"When you're out to be a crusader, please remember that your freedom ends where my nose begins."
Advocate argues that freedom of speech comes within a limit, and even if Pradeep Poonia’s intention is not profit-making, defamatory statements, violating copyright and trademarks are not within the law.
As for the security breached, the company said in a statement to Yourstory “wowed reiterate that no breach of data has happened in this context on company’s computer systems and networks, out of an abundance of caution we are continuing our investigation to ensure that this is the case.
WhiteHat Jr is indeed one of the fastest-growing ed-tech company in India and worldwide. In a span of two years, the growth rate had doubled every month from Rs 10 crore revenue before the lockdown to August; the revenue run rate was 220 million dollars after the acquisition by BYJU’s. The company’s growth story is one of its kind to top such levels in short span.
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