Koo is a social networking application for microblogging purposes developed by entrepreneur Aprameya Radhakrishna and Mayank Bidawatka. In simple words, Koo is an Indian alternative to Twitter.
Koo app had won the Atmanirbhar Bharat app innovation challenge in 2019 along with another app called Chingari. Since then Koo has been promoting itself as Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India). Besides, Koo being in direct competition with Twitter for Indian market share, Koo seems to have adopted Twitter user experience modal with a minor change in colours, theme, and fonts.
Support for local languages
Koo currently supports five languages ie English, Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, and Telugu. Seven more languages are in the pipeline.
With this focus on local languages, Indians will be able to share the message in the form of Koo (alternative tweet on Twitter). Additionally, the user would be able to share audio and video on the platform, enable the unlettered user to share messages to the mass with the need to type it out, an area TikTok had benefited by attracted a large user base from unlettered and not a tech-savvy user.
In addition to the cheap mobile internet data plans and cell phones, Koo is seemed all set to capture the market. Besides this Koo app claims to have 3 to 4.2 million downloads with around 2.5 to 3 million users.
Most of these downloads and users are recent events that were triggered by the Indian government deciding to move to Koo complete and starting with all the government announcements first on Koo and then Twitter. Which had been followed by many Indian ministers and an affiliate announce their move to Koo. This feature snowballed with many celebrities aligned with the BJP government making their so-called announcement to abandon Twitter and move to Koo such as actress Kangana Ranaut, actor Anupum Kheer, former cricketers Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath etc
Why are they all moving to Koo app?
This move fuels BJP-led government demanding Twitter to censor many of the user’s accounts cited the example of Twitter deleting and blocking misinformation during the siege of the US Capitol building to demand similar action be taken against accounts it said were fomenting unrest during last month’s farmer protests. Twitter had agreed to a large extend but reinstated many of the removed posts and accounts — which included journalists, activists, and opposition politicians, saying it did not believe the directives were consistent with the Indian law. Upon this ruling BJP announced it would move to the Koo app. Many see this as yet another step by the Indian government of mass censorship.
Nikhil Pahwa, a digital rights activist and the founder of MediaNama.com, said “the government’s demands had been shrouded in secrecy and had fallen under a complex area of Indian law.”
BJP Modi government’s regular has used Internet shutdowns and censorship as part of the playbook to manage unrest and dissent. As India is now the global capital of internet shutdowns.
Pahwa said there had been hundreds of shutdowns over the last few years. “[There have been] the highest number of internet shutdowns in the world [and] some of the longest in the world,” he said.
“That is mass censorship.”
This latest spat with Twitter is one of the many signs of lack of patience for cyber-dissent in the Modi government.
Is it safe to use Koo app?
French cybersecurity researcher Robert Baptiste, who also goes by the alias Elliot Alderson on Twitter, has highlighted that the app is leaking users’ information. The users’ data includes their email ID, name, date of birth, gender, and marital status could be leaked due to loopholes, which the co-founder Radhakrishna has denied strongly.
Baptiste had earlier pointed out vulnerabilities in the Aadhaar system along with security bugs and vulnerabilities in other tech services. This is a concern as this highlights the possibility of potential data leakage of millions of users including the Indian government departments who were using the platform.
The Chinese connection?
Upon investigation, some Chinese connection has been surfaced regarding the app. The Chinese company named Shunwei which supported by Xiaomi has also invested in Koo. However, according to the co-founder Radhakrishna is in the process of raising fund in India to buy out the stake of Shunwei and Shunwei is will exit the company. This will be making Koo a complete Indian entity. Nonetheless, time will tell if this would happen.
Koo vs Twitter
There are a few similarities between the two applications, such as both are available on Android and iOS, with Koo user interface very similar to Twitter.
Both allow users to write messages (tweets/koo) with Twitter allowing 280 characters for tweets and Koo gives them an option to ‘Koo’ in 400 characters.
The users are also allowed to post media files including videos.
Twitter and Koo both have trending hashtags sections. Besides, they also have options to share specific topics or people and even to send direct messages to other users.
Coming to different language support and domain experts of Koo compare to basic additional support in Twitter.
Twitter’s heavy English focus whereas Koo supports Hindi, Tamil, Telegu and Kannada. Besides, Koo will get support for more Indic languages including Punjabi, Bangla, Oriya, Malayalam and Assamese.
The feed on Koo is divided into two sections ie feed and people. Feed will show the number of posts on the platform and people will show the users following or relevant suggestions.
Additionally, Koo lists the posts chronologically ie recent posts appear on top while Twitter lists tweets based on the engagement.
Onboarding on Koo seems simpler than Twitter with only a mobile number and an OTP to log in but users can later add additional information, unlike Twitter which needs details upfront.
Besides, Twitter has the outlay and technology to handle large data, millions of users post information on the platform and has overcome many challenges with downtime and hacking attempts which Koo does not seem to have.
Koo does not seem to have a strong infrastructure as compared to Twitter to cater load on the system. Additionally, Koo has already had claims of data leaks, privacy and security concerns. However, Koo collects fewer user data compared to Twitter but this could change as many apps start with collecting min data to grow and need a lot more useful information.
Nonetheless, Koo has better privacy of data as compared to Twitter but platform reliability and security is still an issue given the recent hack by French cybersecurity researcher Robert Baptiste.
Will Koo overthrow Twitter in India?
Koo’s success was not easy. It is not the first attempt to overthrow Twitter as many such attempts have been made in the past. One such notable attempt in India was Tooter which did not successfully win users and Twitter has significant dominance in the market.
Koo could pull out a coup over Twitter by dethroning it as the dominant microblogging platform. If that happens, Koo could become the chamber of propaganda for BJP and right-wing affiliates which could help the authorities censor all platforms that do not comply with its orders.
Additionally, this could be the modal adopted by the BJP government across the platform. Only time will tell, will free speech or hate speech survive in India.