Digital Safety: A Chink In The Armour Of Digital India

Sapna Arora, CMO, OLX IndiaSapna has extensive experience in leading major brands through a creative turnaround and in inspiring engagement with consumers in new ways

With more than 460 million internet users, India is globally the second largest internet market after China. Research estimates the number of internet users to rise to 829 million by 2021, possibly making India the largest internet market and bringing a significant portion of our population online. Increased relevance of internet in India's mainstream economy and the magnitude of its usage in the country place issues impacting the cyberspace ecosystem to the fore of any discourse by brands. Yet cybersafety remains an Achilles heel for companies since a large swathe of these users are unaware of the perils that the cyberworld has to offer.

The Internet has added a new dimension to our interactions with each other and more so for companies to engage with their customers proactively. However there are cyber malicious equivalents of almost all behaviours that people demonstrate online owing largely to the anonymity that the internet offers. Widespread adoption of new internet led services and proliferation of these services across the remote corners of the country have led to a rise of a new form of cyber frauds that were unheard of before. Frauds such as social engineering scams, phishing scams, digital identity thefts, UPI led payment scams and more are growing at a rapid pace perpetrated by individuals who surprisingly have an arsenal of not very sophisticated tools at their disposal.

Incidences of cybercrimes have been on the rise in the last couple of years across the internet. Sample this, a study by cybersecurity company, McAfee in December 2019 estimates that around 28.6 per cent of Indians have lost between INR 15,000 to INR 20,000 due to spurious or misleading retail websites while overwhelmingly 56.1 per cent Indians have fallen victim to discount scams, by clicking on unverified links for malicious websites. A report from India's apex central bank, RBI, shows that frauds reported by Indian banks in the first half of the 2019 fiscal year touched an all-time high of Rs 1.13 lakh crore. This figure in FY19 was Rs 71,000 crore. Not only industries but even key cities like the silicon valley of India, Bengaluru have not been spared from nets cast by cybercrooks. The city registered the most number of cybercrime cases in 2018 owing largely to the widespread adoption.

As a key player in the internet
economy of India, we recognised this societal challenge early on and realised the burgeoning gap between brands and consumers towards cyber safety education. Over the last couple of years, as cyber fraud has widened its reach across multiple domains including e-commerce, fin-tech platforms, social media firms and even enterprise productivity software, internet companies have been bolstering their efforts to thwart off this new age menace. As brands gradually realise that there is no panacea to this incredibly complex challenge, they have been working towards forging partnerships with civil society organisations and government. At OLX, we partnered with Cyber Peace foundation to run cyber safety awareness camps that have so far impacted over 10000 people across India. Similarly, government organisations such as MeitY, Cyber Swachhta Kendra (Botnet Cleaning and Malware Analysis Centre), Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre have been actively working with private organisations and internet brands to curb this malice. A key area of emerging technology which is augmenting private and public companies has been leveraging artificial intelligence in order to weed malicious attempts even before they cause any damage. Realising the importance of a collaborative approach towards this cyber ailment, law enforcement authorities and brands have also adopted social media as a bullhorn to integrate cyber safety awareness into the mainstream consciousness.

Internet-based platforms will go a long way investing in digital safety in a manner that's not only engaging for the user but also drives sensitization towards general safety issues

Brands and companies often realise the importance of digital safety late in their brand-consumer journey lifecycle owing to the objectives of building a strong market share first. Unlike other countries, the consumer lifecycle journey in India tends to differ. Consumers today are much keener to adapt to brands that tend to speak in their native lingo and more importantly appeal to a common societal purpose. Digital safety could power the next wave of brand communications as brands increasingly try to appeal to a newer set of millennial audiences and shift their spends from traditional to digital media. A report from Dentsu Aegis Network pegs the digital ad industry in India to reach Rs 25,000 cr by 2021 while outpacing the traditional ad industry by 3x. While India's populace speaks over 30 languages across 1600 dialects yet lack of availability of relevant content is the largest barrier for adoption of online services by over 60% of India's internet users. A recent example stems from the fake call centre scam perpetrated by cybercrooks pretending to be bank employees and siphoning off large amounts of money via social engineering scams and skimming techniques. This led to financial institutions trying to hurriedly adapt their communication campaigns to appeal to a vernacular audience on digital media. As per media reports, most of these scams originate across the belts of rural areas such as Jamtara, Bharatpur and Mewat where consumers have been bereft of cybersafety campaigns in their native lingo.

What is needed is to systematically incorporate digital-safety consciously into brand campaigns which will help driving-in the sensitization for the next wave of our young users accessing the internet. Internet-based platforms will go a long way investing in digital safety in a manner that's not only engaging for the user but also drives sensitization towards general safety issues. It is only then will we be able to enable our users to put in place a preventive ecosystem at a personal level. No amount of effort is going to be enough until brands also realise the key collective role played stakeholders such as government, law enforcement authorities and the industry to safeguard the interests of this malice that seeks to impede the growth of digital India. As the internet proliferates and its key role multiplies in our daily lives, it is imperative that brands bear a shared responsibility in making the internet safer to continue to enjoy its convenience and the fantastic opportunities it presents.