An online coding platform for children has been all over the news during the past few days. They have been accused of malpractice and misleading ads. People who had criticised the company have been served with lawsuits. Recently, the personal data of 2.8 lakh students and teachers enrolled in their programmes was reportedly exposed on its servers. The company is none other than WhiteHat Jr, which was recently acquired by Byju’s. Let us understand the details surrounding the various allegations against the company.
Company Profile – WhiteHat Jr
Let us understand what the company actually does. WhiteHat Jr was established in 2018 by Karan Bajaj as an educational technology platform. It conducts various programmes to teach coding to children between the ages of 6 and 18. This is exactly what makes it different from other coding platforms. The company provides a coding curriculum which comprises of Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, and machine learning. They are headquartered in Mumbai and have established a presence in India and the US. The 2-year old company was acquired by Byju’s (Think and Learn Pvt Ltd) in August 2020 for a whopping sum of $300 million (~Rs 2,215 crore).
When Did the Problems Begin?
We have clearly understood that WhiteHat Jr’s target audience is children. To ensure that their programmes receive more applicants, they had come up with certain ads during the beginning of the pandemic. These ads contained some surprising claims. Let us look at a few of these.
As we can see, these ads are very bizarre and confusing. The name ‘Wolf Gupta’ is used in multiple ads for different salary packages at the largest technology company in the world. Also, the fact remains that they are creating a sort of fantasy land in which 9 or 13-year olds get salaries worth Rs 150 crore! The company is essentially making claims to parents that their child could become the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg by learning with WhiteHat Jr.
Here we can see another advertisement by the company that states that children can code a spaceship within 46 minutes! If only things were that easy in life! The EdTech company wants to make you believe that six-year-olds can learn such complicated computer programmes very quickly. There were many other mind-boggling ads from WhiteHat Jr that had circled around social media sites.
Criticisms Against WhiteHat Jr
After going through multiple ads and the website of the online coding platform, a software engineer by the name of Pradeep Poonia started criticising them. He stated that WhiteHat Jr has falsely advertised their products, and most of their stories were fake. He started posting YouTube videos against the company and even shared certain sensitive information on his social media handles. Aniruddha Malpani, an angel investor, also posted content regarding the business practices of WhiteHat Jr. His Twitter feed is filled with serious accusations against the online coding platform.
Some of the posts from Twitter also state that there has been exploitation of teachers and employees. A particular tweet connected to these allegations reveals that employees were forced to work 15 hours every day for 7 days a week. It also states that team leaders would fire or terminate their employees if they raised their voice against such practices.
The WhiteHat Jr Defamation Case
Instead of working towards addressing these criticisms and being accountable for their actions, WhiteHat Jr filed defamation cases against both individuals in November. This is a case which states that Poonia and Malpani had damaged the reputation of the company by saying or writing bad things about them. WhiteHat has stated that the claims made by both individuals are not true.
The Edtech company even used YouTube’s copyright strike feature to take down videos that had been posted by Poonia. Another roast video on WhiteHat Jr’s ads was taken down by YouTube after the company reported it as a copyright violation. This roast video was made by Jihan Haria, a 12-year-old boy from Pune! Just imagine the extent to which they have used their position to cover up all sorts of criticisms.
The defamation case filed against Pradeep Poonia is worth nearly Rs 20 crore! They have also accused Poonia of hacking into the company’s communication platform and obtaining information for his posts. Surprisingly, in the 820-page lawsuit filed in the Delhi High Court, the company even admits that ‘Wolf Gupta’ is an ‘imaginary character’.
The Delhi High Court, on November 23rd, has given an interim-judgment on the case. The court has ordered Pradeep Poonia to take down some of his tweets that had accused WhiteHat Jr of conducting fraudulent activities. He is also not allowed to use the name ‘WhiteHat Jr’ in videos for his YouTube channel. Aniruddha Malpani has also been retrained from posting and publishing any derogatory content against WhiteHat Jr and its management.
An interesting fact to be noted here is that the company had earlier claimed that they are welcome to any suggestions and criticisms. They had also stated that all criticisms would be used to improve upon their services. However, we have now found out that this is a completely false claim.
The judgment made by the Delhi High Court is not final. The court will hear both sides in the next hearing scheduled on January 6, 2021.
Personal Data Exposed by WhiteHat Jr
On November 24, major news publications reported that the personal data of 2.8 lakh students and teachers enrolled in WhiteHat Jr was exposed to hackers. According to experts, the servers wherein data was stored contained certain vulnerabilities. The database was left open and allowed access to folders containing documents, files, images, and videos. More importantly, it also included the personal data of thousands of minors, their parents, as well as teachers. According to reports, certain documents related to WhiteHat Jr’s court cases were also included in the database.
Usually, these folders can only be accessed by authorised company personnel with a username and a password. The Byju’s-owned company was reportedly able to fix the issue once it was brought to their attention. Initially, it was not clear if any of the user data was compromised.
“We 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,”– Statement made by a WhiteHat Jr spokesperson to Quint on November 25.
The Way Ahead
As we can see, WhiteHat Jr is not taking its criticisms well. The company had introduced so many claims that seemed odd or misleading. Poonia and Malpani were just two main individuals, out of many, who dared to voice out their opinions. And now, they have been charged with defamation cases for the same. Their employees and other critics are being silenced and avoided. Do bear in mind that this multi-million dollar company would do everything in its power to get away from accusations.
The recent data leak from the company also shows that there are some serious internal issues too, that the company needs to address. Things are not looking good for the company. Will they be able to completely get away with such fabricated stories? Would this affect the growth of its parent company- Byju’s? Or will people just forget their stories soon? Let us wait and watch.