Tag Archives: Indian Technology

SMSAssassin: Crowd Sourced SMS Spam Filter Developed by Students in India

Email spam might be dropping, but that doesn’t mean that spam is about to go away. It’s just that the spammers have found new, and possibly more fruitful, vehicles for spreading junk. This includes search engines, twitter, and of course, SMS. In spite of the establishment of the NDNC (National Do Not Call) registry, SMS spam is rapidly increasing in India. I personally consider SMS spam to be much more of a nuisance than email spam, simply because, although there are sophisticated spam filters available to tackle email spam, when it comes to SMS spam we are mostly helpless. Manual blacklisting of repeat offenders is the best most of us can do.

For separating spam from ham, most email filters utilize two techniques:

Heuristic Approach: The software learns to distinguish spam from experience by learning from the content of already processed messages.
Bayesian Approach: It’s a statistical approach that employs a probabilistic model to determine if a message is spam, based on pre-defined classifiers.

Unfortunately, these methods alone are not very effective when it comes to tackling SMS spam. The short length of messages, coupled with the use of abbreviations and vernacular languages make it very tough for machine learning algorithms to work with acceptable accuracy.

Now, a team of students at the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology (Delhi) are trying to tackle this problem by employing the intelligence of the crowd. The team lead by Dr. Ponnurangam Kumaraguru, includes Vinayak Naik, Kuldeep Yadav, Atul Goyal, Ashish Gupta, Dipesh Kumar Singh, and Rushil Khurana.

For developing the initial proof-of-concept, the team ran an incentivized crowd-sourcing scheme in the IIIT-D campus (organized through Facebook) to collect sample spam messages. Pictured below is the tag cloud of the initial database of 4,318 messages, out of which nearly half were spam.

SMS-Assassin-Accuracy
Tag Cloud for SPAM (left) and HAM (right)

Some of the interesting observations made by the team from the initial training set are:

  • Almost all messages including an URL are spam.
  • Certain special characters like /’ are frequently present in spam messages.
  • Typically word count of spam messages is higher. Also the average word length in legitimate messages is shorter due to the presence of abbreviations.

SMS-Assassin-Accuracy
SMSAssassin Architecture

For spam filtering, two techniques were explored by the research group Bayesian and SVM (Support vector machine). SVM is a supervised machine learning technique commonly used for classification. With SpamAssassin, Bayesian approach yielded lower than desired accuracy with spam classification; however, SVM was too computationally heavy for low and mid-range mobile devices, and it had a lower success rate with classification of hams. Dr. Ponnurangam’s team is currently working on an online module that will run a pre-trained SVM based classifier on the server and pass on the results to the app.

SMS-Assassin-Accuracy
SMSAssassin Accuracy

A Symbian app, which will offer full featured spam protection on mobile phones with or without data connection, is currently in the final stages of development. The choice of Symbian as the launch platform might surprise some; however, the decision was likely inspired by the ground situation in India. Nokia still has a significant presence in India, and it dominates the mid-range segment. In terms of volume, I suspect Android is still quite far behind Symbian. That being said, an Android app is planned, and will possibly be released later in the summer. In the meanwhile you can check out the research paper for getting a better understanding of the underlying technology.

Indian Internet Growth; 25K Users in 1998 to 100 Million in 2010 [Infographic]

India is one of leading countries in the world which has seen a large growth in Internet usage. It also incidentally has the world’s largest number of mobile users, currently around 600 million.

So how much has India grown? Well, from a meager 25,000 users in 1998 it has grown to 100 million users. Though it is hardly 10% of the Indian population it still puts India at number 3 in world Internet users after China and the United States.

Internet was first started out in 1995 and has radically grown through the years. Most of the Indians go online to check emails, visit social networking sites like , and , download music, instant messaging, watching online videos and more. However, India does lag behind in one area; internet speed. They are currently ranked at number 144 with an average speed of 1.42 Mbps speed.

Interesting facts right? Check out the entire infographic of growth of Internet users in India through 2010 below (click to enlarge).

indian_internet_growth

(h/t @manan – via Flickr)

Indian Groupon Clone SnapDeal Raises $12 Million, Plans to Expand to International Markets

Deal-of-the-day websites are currently the hottest thing in the town, and everyone wants to have a piece of the cake. Even as Groupon continues to grow at a tearaway pace, regional Groupon clones are also flourishing. SnapDeal, a popular Indian deal website, and the largest competitor of the Groupon owned Sosasta.com, has raised $12 million in an investment round led by Nexus Venture Partners and IndoUS Venture Partners.

Snapdeal currently serves 35 cities across India, and claims to acquire a new subscriber every 8 seconds. For SnapDeal, we will be looking at expanding to international markets in South East Asia within the next two quarters”, Kunal Bahl, CEO of SnapDeal’s parent company, informed AlooTechie.com.

Nevertheless, there are legitimate concerns regarding the long-term viability of the business model of these deal websites. According to multiple reports, the absurdly high discount rates coupled with poor customer retention often means that the service providers advertising through Groupon and similar websites end up with a sore deal. However, investors are clearly bullish about the prospects of this growing niche of services. What is your opinion? Do you believe that deal-of-the-day websites are here to stay, or are they being over-valued? Sound your opinions in the comments section.

Why Is PayPal Screwing Indians? An ex-RBI Employee Tells Me The Facts

So as you already know by now, PayPal is busy screwing small Indian SMBs and independent freelancers who rely on the service to send and receive payments. This is definitely not the first time this has happened, and will definitely not be the last one.

In a recent email and blog post, PayPal said that they will be restraining Indian users from using the money in their PayPal account to purchase anything along with putting a stipulation that they have to withdraw the money within 7 days. In addition to that, they have also said that Indian users cannot accept payments more than $500.

Many users have been blaming the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for this, but most of them haven’t done any fact-checking as such and are just blaming it because they feel that PayPal has no faults whatsoever. So I sat down with one of my roommates who has been an ex-RBI employee who has worked with them for 7 years to understand why this is happening.

Let me take you through this. First of we take a look at why PayPal cannot keep your money with them for more than 7 days and then delve into the $500 restriction they will be putting into place. Here is the actual conversation edited in some form by me without changing the details.

Me: So PayPal says that they cannot keep the money in their account for more than 7 days? Why is this happening.

RBI-expert: Because if PayPal keeps the money with them, they have to be regulated as a bank (and any institution that does it have to do the same) and PayPal does not want that to happen. Any entity which provides on-demand payments have to be regulated as a bank as per RBI rules, this is mandated because if they hold money for more than 7 days they have to provide users with interest. With this new change PayPal is basically circumnavigating this regulation so that they don’t have to answer questions to any government about how they conduct business and why they charge an exorbitant amount to customers to accept payments whilst continuing to not giving users interest like every other bank in India does.

Me: So you are saying that PayPal is practically f*cking all Indians.

RBI-expert: No I wouldn’t say that, but I would say that their business heads know how to circumnavigate against a country’s policies and that they are adamant about accepting regulations because that would mean that they have to cut down on their charges and also ensure that they do follow all guidelines laid down for a bank.

Me: Ok, so I see that they are screwing their customers with a hefty fee and now this. I do understand that they want to make money, but what is about $500 transaction limit.

RBI-expert: Well, once again this is a government and RBI mandated thing. All entities who bring cash-flow into India have to basically report transactions above $500 to the RBI and government. PayPal is basically just circumnavigating around this mandate by restricting the payments to $500. Once they do this, they have no obligation to report it to the RBI or the Indian government.

Me: So you are basically saying that these new changes by PayPal is just about screwing the RBI, Indian Government and people who use their service.

RBI-expert: Well, these are the rules. I will simply say this. If PayPal accepts the RBI regulations they have to be treated a bank and I can see that they are hell bent on not doing it. They are basically finding ways to get over it because once they become a bank they come under a different set of rules. Right now PayPal is a monetary service but they are not like say SBI, ICICI, HSBC or Citibank and do not have to adhere to the rules. Once you become a bank, you have stringent rules which I don’t think PayPal wants to follow.

So as you can see, from the above conversation which came through from a horse’s mouth, I feel that PayPal is basically cheating the RBI, Indian government and Indian users because they don’t want to be regulated. All I can say is that we need to boycott these services, check out some PayPal alternatives.

Though these things may make my statement that RBI is in no fault at this sound untrue, but you have to understand that these rules have been in place in 2004 and some of them since 1999. So saying that RBI is screwing PayPal is basically wrong. PayPal has been floundering these rules since they came into India and the RBI is just reining them in. They might have given them an option to change to being a bank or stop flouting the rules laid down by the Government of India. I believe you will understand what PayPal chose to do.

PayPal has also been blocked or regulated in countries such as Japan, Brazil, USA among others. Some of these countries have put in similar restrictions on in place which were also done last year in India. So it does not really make sense to say that RBI is the only one who is regulating PayPal.

This post has been updated with additional inputs and facts.

PayPal Alternatives For Indians

If you are an Indian and have been screwed by PayPal, you do not have to stick with them. There are several other ways to get your money from foreign companies without having to be a victim of their stupid policies and lack of rules in India.

To find out a different solution, you can visit this Wikipedia page which lists provides a huge list of service providers who are PayPal alternatives and also allow you to accept online payments.

In addition to these I also suggest you to take a look at https://www.alertpay.com/ and http://www.westernunion.com/ which provide an easy way to send and receive money online.

Though not all of them may work in India, these solutions are definitely 100 times better than PayPal. If you want to add to this list please feel free to comment on this post.

So PayPal Practically Screws Indians Again

If you want to get behind the history of me and PayPal, you better head over and read this older post rant of mine. PayPal has been and is being screwing people in India because they basically cannot adhere to standards laid down by the Reserve Bank of India.

In a recent email sent out to PayPal users in India, they have said that they will be laying down new rules for Indian users starting from March 1st, 2011. Here are some of the highlights, you can read the rest here.

In order to comply with the RBI Guidelines, our user agreement in India will be amended for the following services as follows:

  1. Any balance in and all future payments into your PayPal account may not be used to buy goods or services and must be transferred to your bank account in India within 7 days from the receipt of confirmation from the buyer in respect of the goods or services; and
  2. Export-related payments for goods and services into your PayPal account may not exceed US$500 per transaction.

So PayPal is practically telling Indian users that they cannot buy anything from their money in PayPal and instead have to use their "f*cked up" exchange rates so that you lose money and then pay a "premium" on exchange rate conversions when you buy things from out of the country.

In addition to that they are telling developers and web designers that you cannot earn more than $500 per transaction. Now try explaining to your clients that they will need to take the effort to send you money in multiple transactions.

Alright, I am not going to go on with this humbug, please continue for me in the comments.

Please don’t blame the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for this. For the record, here are the FEMA regulations (Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999)  which clearly state how businesses like PayPal should operate in India, and PayPal is definitely one of the biggest violators of it.

More PayPal shenanigans at their official blog. At least they didn’t f*ck royally when it comes to intimating users.

Online Ticket Booking Service TicketPlease.com Launches with the Blessing of Bollywood

Ticket-Please Indian film star Ajay Devgn has launched TicketPlease, a new online ticket booking service that will allow consumers to book tickets for films, plays, concerts and sporting events from the comfort of their couch. The service, which is being run by Jimmy Mistry, also has the backing of eminent Bollywood personalities like Sanjay Dutt, Nitin Manmohan, Vatsal Seth, Ramakant Tibrewal, Vijay Jain and Amit Sharma.

Besides offering tickets, the website will feature reviews, news and discussion forums. TicketPlease is hoping to directly connect fans with celebrities through celeb blogs and interviews. An online store with DVDs, books and games is also planned.

“I am delighted to bring to the audience a website where they can read authentic news about their favorite stars and much-awaited films. Being a part of the website, I will be taking keen interest in it. I will also be blogging for Ticketplease.com and interacting with my fans”, said Ajay Devgn at the launch event.

Did You Know That Opera India Pretty Much Closed Shop Ten Months Back?

Did you know that Opera India pretty much closed shop ten months back? Neither did I, until a few weeks back. Apparently, back in March 2010, Opera fired almost all of its employees in India, and shut down the entire engineering division. Opera had opened its Chandigarh office in 2006 amidst much fanfare. In 2009, they even shifted to a swanky new office in Chandigarh’s IT Park. So, what went wrong?

We reported in January that Opera co-founder Jon von Tetzchner had stepped down as CEO to make way for Lars Boilesen. It appears that the new man in charge made all the difference. Opera had suffered surprise losses in Q3 2009, and their shares had shed a lot of value. Boilesen was obviously entrusted with the responsibility of getting Opera back in the black.

Opera India had just delivered the eBook Reader and Unite Media Player widgets, which are still among the most downloaded widgets. Opera 10.5 with widgets that could run as independent applications was released a day earlier. Even before employees could get their breath back, on March 3, Boilesen informed them that the entire engineering division will be shut down. From what I have managed to gather, the only explanation offered was that this was a part of the restructuring at Opera Software.

Of course, downsizing and restructuring are harsh realities of life for IT and Software companies. However, what surprises me is how silently Opera managed to pull this off. Neither was there any announcement, nor any media coverage. The restructuring has left Opera India with a handful of employees – Mrunmaiy Abroal, Shwetank Dixit and Hari G. All of them currently work from home. Sagar Chandna was called back to Norway.


Opera India Team

I tried reaching out to some ex-Opera India employees; however, (apparently) they are contracted not to speak about Opera in negative light. Nevertheless, you can glean more about what went on from their public blog posts. Check out the blog posts by Vishal Lahsiv, Amit Patil and Vivek Jisthu.

Speaking on the issue, Opera’s co-founder, Mr. Tetzchner said, “The decision to close an office that and let people go is always a tough one. At the same time, it is difficult to maintain and control a far away office as it requires quite a lot of resources.”

It’s disappointing that Opera chose to shut down their Indian engineering team. They had an immensely talented bunch, including four IITians. I wish that they had made better utilization of the talent pool available to them. However, it isn’t surprising, simply because Opera is a public company that has to answer to shareholders. At the same time, while it is always nice to have a formal announcement, companies aren’t required to announce workforce cutbacks, and they often don’t. From the anecdotes I have heard, the lack of knowledge also hurt the employees who were fired. Although, most of the employees have succeeded in finding new jobs for themselves, it was a big hurdle for them to convince potential employers about the closure of Opera India’s engineering department. With everyone from managers (Wolfgang Maehr) to testers axed, there wasn’t anyone to back them up. After all, major software firms shutting down in India is still a relatively rare phenomenon.


We moved ahead ! there was lots of hicupps after this, it was undoubtedly one of most hard faced part of life. It has been almost 8-9 months to the incidence but still feels like it was yesterday only. Opera being the first company of my career will always be cherished . This company taught me technology , “how to code”, and more over few essential lessons of life .

– Vishal Lahsiv

All said the india office was also not so very expensive to Opera India ´s pocket. Which is one of the more surprizing realities of closing down the India Operations. Everyone will find their way…move on…but the values that companies talk about…particularly values of one family openness etc. Well they all collapse when it comes to business decisions. In the brief sojourn working in Opera, i was satisfied with the work culture and the type of work. Perhaps thats the reason for some good team morale and productive output by end of the day.

– Amit Patil

Govt. To Launch Websites For Investor Education

In order   to enable more and more common people or rather common investors to participate in the capital markets, the Government has decided to launch investor education Web sites in all regional languages.   The govt. feels that with literacy levels being low in Indian society, making investor education Web sites available in regional languages will encourage more people to participate in the investment process and thus increase awareness among common people.

Dr Manmohan Singh – the prime minister of India will launch these investor education Web sites today (i.e., December 14) as a part of the India Corporate Week 2010′ which starts today. The Corporate Affairs Ministry of India has already been holding a lot of investor awareness programmes across the country with this year the number of programmes being a whopping 3,000 as compared to the last year count of only 300.

Image Courtesy

AMD India Develops Ontario – New Fusion Chip for Netbooks and Tablets

AMD-Fusion The Indian wing of AMD (Advanced Micro Devices) has developed a sophisticated fusion chip called Ontario that is claimed to be three times more powerful and economical than its competition. A fusion chip is one which includes both CPU (Central Processing Unit) and GPU (Graphics Processing Unit).

These super-small Ontario chips are targeted at tablets and netbooks, and are the first in a series of fusion chips planned by AMD. The chipmaker claims that Ontario will be able to deliver 90% of the performance of today’s chips in less than half of the silicon area, which should theoretically lead to less heat generation. The Bobcat based Ontario chips are extremely power efficient with a rating of 9W. Each core is capable of running on less than one watt of power.

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AMD Ontario (Img Source: The Hindu)

Ontario was designed by an 86 member team from India who worked on it for two years. Ontario powered devices, including a Windows 7 tablet from Acer, will begin appearing in 2011.