A social approach for protecting privacy

Written by: Madhur

On Sep 9th, 2007

Here is an interview submitted by one of our readers Ullas Sankhla. He talked with the founders of BanKaro, a recently launched social mobile spam filtering service. BanKaro is trying to build a community of trusted individuals for sharing phone numbers of unsolicited marketing callers. The service has just launched, so it remains to be seen how successful they are in actually realizing the idea. The most interesting part is to see if really there are ways to get users to pay for using the service (in the interview, the founders claim that their informal tracking of the market tells them that people are ready to pay). We are featuring them here as this looks like an interesting idea and from what I’ve seen, a first of its kind in the Indian market. If the idea flies and they are able to build a community of active users, it should be easy for them to include features for sharing more stuff like registration information for sites, coupon codes, etc. A similar site that comes to mind (outside the Indian market) is bugmenot.com.
Read on below to find out what BanKaro is all about and their plans. As always, comments/questions are welcome.

What is Ban Karo?
Ban Karo is a social network-driven approach to solving the telemarketing problem. It ensures that mobile phone users have enough information to know whether an incoming call is a telemarketing one or not.

Why Ban Karo?
Ban Karo started as a response to what we believed was a crushing productivity issue, in that literally thousands of man-hours are lost on a daily basis by answering these pointless telemarketing calls. We realized that simply individually storing these numbers will not help, as very few people actually get repeat calls from the same number. It was this that drove us to the insight that telemarketing is a social problem, and hence, is best tackled socially. To put it simply, we wanted to devise a mechanism which attacks the cost structure of the telemarketing operators, thus pushing them into shaping their outreach services into a more customer-friendly.

What do you think of the Indian government’s DNC initiative?
First of all, we believe the Indian consumer has become much more conscious and protective of her personal privacy. We seem to have reached an inflexion point in the market, where additional breaches of privacy by marketers would be deemed as harassment. Having said that, the government’s initiative, though noble, suffers from a lot of inherent flaws. At the first instance, the end-user has to register with the mobile service operators, who will take at least 45 days to validate the registration. Secondly, and more importantly, the DNC registry allows marketers to call up the end-user if there is an existing business relationship between them. This loophole can be stretched to cover all marketing efforts, especially the ones we are normally plagued by such as credit card solicitation, insurance policy solicitation, etc. We believe, on the whole that the DNC registry is a great initiative, and we would be willing to exist as a complementary service in order to do what’s best for our customers.

When did you guys decide to start up? Who are the founders?
Ban Karo consists of Anshuman Mishra, Lalit Mangal, and Sumit Jain. Lalit and Sumit are from IIT Roorkee, and Anshuman is from IIT Kharagpur. All three of us were previously working for the same company. The idea for launching Ban Karo occurred in early July, after we had left our “secure” jobs. We realized we were in the right frame of mind for venturing forth on our own and launching a startup focused on the Indian market. But, as is common in such cases, it took a while for us to figure out the shape of the problem we should be tackling. Once we realized we had the technical expertise to launch something like this on our own, it was fairly plain sailing.

How are you funded?
We are a bootstrapped startup, and are currently coasting on our savings.

How are you planning to make money off the service?
Our informal tracking of the market has led us to the conclusion that people are willing to pay for the service in order to gain from its effective approach against telemarketing calls.

How will you attract end-users to your service?
Ban Karo, being social network-based, is growing in a totally viral manner. In order to seed the network, though, we have recently launched a feature by which one can directly request an invite to join, and if validated, will be issued one. This
allows Ban Karo to grow in a quasi-organic fashion from multiple nuclei.

What are your plans for the future?
We believe social networks represent a powerful tool in tackling various problems across domains, be they telemarketing, consumer information aggregation, finance, or even education. In the future, we foresee our company mapping out various solutions to these problems, from our experience with the Ban Karo service.

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Entry Filed under: bankaro, web2.0

5 Responses

  1. 1. binny said on September 10th, 2007 at 7:20 am

    make a facebook app. It might help.

  2. 2. vivek garg said on September 10th, 2007 at 7:26 am

    Going thru the FAQ it seems that the service will create a phone list based on your social context. I wonder what type of info it needs to build up this context. Where i live? all the companies i deal with etc? It will be interesting to see how it deals with spammers trying to introduce noise.

    Also with an evergrowing list…do i memorize all phone numbers? Or do i fill up my phone book with them ? Or before answering a call, I should check up on bankaro.com? I think its too much effort for end user to keep the spam phone number list updated manually vs just picking up the phone and cancelling the call.

    Is there a phone app in works that will recommend me with some degree of certainity if I should pick up a call .. fancy huh ?  

  3. 3. The Ban Karo Gang said on September 10th, 2007 at 9:51 am

    @binny. Thanks for a nice suggestion. We will surely look into it.

    @vivek. Your trust circle acts as a proactive filter for you. Ban Karo maintains a list of numbers which have a high probability to call you up and bug you. So now the answer of the question that how exactly will you be protected depends upon the phone you are using. If you don’t want to run out of your phone book then you will have to install an application which will store the number in phone memory. And depending upon on the settings an incoming spam call will be barred or just marked as spam.

  4. 4. Vivek Krishna said on September 11th, 2007 at 5:48 am

    So now i need to dedicate phone book entries to spammers? Please..

    does this work at the network level?It would be good if you guys sold your solution to operators,rather than make a web based solution of it.

    If I understand correctly,then i need to install an app right? Does the app automatically intercept calls and block them?How do you build the ‘circle of trust’?

  5. 5. Vivek Garg said on September 11th, 2007 at 8:26 pm

    I dont want my phone operators blocking my phone calls. I would like to be the decision maker. May be they can store a log and voice mails (think junk folder) that i have an option to check and delete.

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