Friday, March 13, 2009

Review of India's Most Important New Startup

"The power of private information online is so great that the commercial incentive for companies or individuals to misuse it is huge"

Tim Berners-Lee

Anyone who has read my blog knows that I believe online freedom and personal data privacy are issues of fundamental importance to our future.

Indeed, I firmly believe that as IP networks become the de facto standard for all forms of global communications, the rights and freedoms we have online will become just as important (if not more important) than the rights and freedoms we have offline.

Unfortunately, as Tim Berners-Lee and other have pointed out, this freedom is under threat from all sides. The fact of the matter is that personal information is valuable, and as a result, companies will always have an incentive to abuse and exploit their users' trust and personal details for financial gain.

Which brings me to Yauba ( Yauba is a search engine that makes privacy the very bedrock of its service. Indeed, its privacy policy is literally 9 words long:

We do not keep any personally identifiable information.

All that is nice and good. But here is the kicker, however. Not only are all searches on Yauba conducted on a safe and secure basis, but also all visits to third party websites are conducted on an anonymous basis as well. Basically Yauba acts as a anonymous proxy to sites that come up on their search results.

This is huge, and this is something that I have seen on no other search engine. Anywhere.

Why This Matters

Imagine that you have a relative in Chicago who is worried about breast cancer. She feels a strange lump in her left breast, and this scares her to death. But not only is she scared about the possibility of her having breast cancer, but she is also frightened about what would happen if her employer suspected she may be sick or whether her medical insurance company may try to deny her coverage for one of the many technicalities that they use.

For a person like her, the information available on the Internet can be truly valuable, even life saving. And yet, she may be afraid about what would happen if her insurance company or employers decided one day to take her to court and use her online search records as evidence against her.

Can this happen?

If we are not vigilent in protecting our rights, absolutely.

Indeed, if we do not fight for our rights to online privacy and freedom, such a scenario is a very real and present danger. As Tim Berners Lee has stated, the temptation of companies (and indeed governments) to abuse and exploit our private data is just too strong, especially in this age of economic difficulties. We all know that Yahoo has turned over search information from dissidents in China for example to the Chinese government. And as for Google, well, I will just have you look at the following link:

This is why I am willing to claim that Yauba is the most important new startup to come out of India this year, and that Yauba and Zoho are the two companies most likely to hit mainstream. Yauba is the company that can once and for all shut down the idiotic argument that many online companies give about how it is not possible to provide a useful online service without invading the users privacy.

Yauba IS the Anti-Google.

P.S. I found a video online describes the search features very well:

New Indian startups such as Yauba demonstrates that Indian created services can make a tremendous impact on the global stage. The Indian startup revolution is just beginning, and we can look forward to many more great companies coming out of India in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Reforming Women's Education in Developing Countries (Part 1 of 2)

Nobel prize winning Indian economist Amartya Sen (sadly no relation to me) once wrote a very influential article entitled "More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing". In it he argued that it is a mistake to compare Europe sex ratios with that of places like India.

"The fate of women is quite different in most of Asia and North Africa [compared to US or Europe]. In these places the failure to give women medical care similar to what men get and to provide them with comparable food and social services results in fewer women surviving than would be the case if they had equal care.

In India, for example, except in the period immediately following birth, the death rate is higher for women than for men fairly consistently in all age groups until the late thirties. This relates to higher rates of disease from which women suffer, and ultimately to the relative neglect of females, especially in health care and medical attention.

Similar neglect of women vis-à-vis men can be seen also in many other parts of the world. The result is a lower proportion of women than would be the case if they had equal care—in most of Asia and North Africa, and to a lesser extent Latin America.
This pattern is not uniform in all parts of the third world, however. Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, ravaged as it is by extreme poverty, hunger, and famine, has a substantial excess rather than deficit of women, the ratio of women to men being around 1.02.

Indeed, sharp diversities also exist within particular regions—sometimes even within a particular country. For example, the ratio of women to men in the Indian states of Punjab and Haryana, which happen to be among the country's richest, is a remarkably low 0.86, while the state of Kerala in southwestern India has a ratio higher than 1.03, similar to that in Europe, North America, and Japan.

To get an idea of the numbers of people involved in the different ratios of women to men, we can estimate the number of "missing women" in a country, say, China or India, by calculating the number of extra women who would have been in China or India if these countries had the same ratio of women to men as obtain in areas of the world in which they receive similar care. If we could expect equal populations of the two sexes, the low ratio of 0.94 women to men in South Asia, West Asia, and China would indicate a 6 percent deficit of women; but since, in countries where men and women receive similar care, the ratio is about 1.05, the real shortfall is about 11 percent.

In China alone this amounts to 50 million "missing women," taking 1.05 as the benchmark ratio. When that number is added to those in South Asia, West Asia, and North Africa, a great many more than 100 million women are "missing." These numbers tell us, quietly, a terrible story of inequality and neglect leading to the excess mortality of women."

Since Sen first wrote the article in 1990, the economic situation in India and China has certainly improved. But the glaring disparities remain.

The fact of the matter is being a woman in India, China or anyplace else in the developing world is very difficult. Anyone who has spent much time in India will know the monumental scale of the problem at hand.

So what can be done?

There is obviously no one solution. These are colossal, deep rooted problems. But this does not mean that we should despair. Indeed, I do believe that the Internet and the resulting free access to information can play a very significant role in helping to reverse this statistic.

In part two of this post, I will describe 5 ways in which the Internet can play a significant role in reversing women's inequalities in India as well as other developing countries. I will try to discuss why online freedom is so important in this process and how the Internet can also also reduce many of the barriers that previously excluded women from full participation in Indian and global community. Finally, I will discuss some of the regional differences that we see in India between Kerala and Punjab and what role the Internet can also play here.

Monday, March 9, 2009

My Personal Reflections on International Women's Day (as Both an Indian and as a Woman)

Yesterday was International Women's Day ...

A day to reflect on where we have come in terms of progress in this world.

Unfortunately, I fear that the global economic crisis will have significant negative consequences in erasing many of the gains that women have made, both in India and elsewhere across the past several decades.

The fact of the matter is, it is hard enough being a woman when times are good, and you are living in an advanced industrial economy.

When times are bad and you are living in any of the many poverty stricken lands in this world, life can be truly be, as in Hobbes's words, "nasty, brutish and short". Indeed, we are seeing increasing reports of violence against women in India which only serves as a reminder of how much we have to go just in our own country.

Around the world, unfortunately, the news is not much better. The statistics are sobering enough:
  • One in five women worldwide suffer from rape or attempted rape
  • 530,000 women die in pregnancy or childbirth each year
  • Of 1.2 billion people living in poverty worldwide, 70% are women
  • 80% of the world's 27 million refugees are women
  • Women own around only 1% of the world's land
  • Women are 2/3 of the 1 billion+ illiterate adults who have no access to basic education
These statistics are from a time when the global economy was experiencing unprecedented growth and the world was making great strides in improving women's rights. In the current global economic downturn, I fear things will become much worse.

Hurricane Katrina in the US has shown that the veneer of civilisation is very thin in times of great difficulties, and in any economic recession, it is always the poorest countries and the weakest people who suffer the most.

Yesterday was International Women's Day, but the days in the upcoming weeks and months and years, I am afraid, will be anything but.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Smart Babes Profile 6: Danica McKellar

My next smart babes profile is actress Danica McKellar.

Danica is best known in her role in the Emmy award winning TV programme The Wonder Years, where she played Winnie Cooper, the main love interest of Fred Savage throughout the entire series.

Unlike other child actors or actresses, however, Danica did not neglect her studies. Instead, she graduated summa cum laude in mathematics from UCLA.

While still an undergraduate, she published a paper in the Journal of Physics entitled "Percolation and Gibbs states multiplicity for ferromagnetic Ashkin-Teller models on Z2" In this paper, she co-developed a mathematics theorem along with esteemed UCLA mathematics professor Lincoln Chayes, which is now referred to as the 'Chayes-McKellar-Winn theorem'.

After graduation, she wrote two books on mathematics which both became New York Times Bestsellers.

By combining beauty with brains, Danica shows the world that smart babes are truly sexy and shows young girls that even male dominated subjects like mathematics are areas where we can succeed.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

America's Loss Is India's Gain

Every Indian who reads my blog should also read this paper by Harvard researchers Vivek Wadhwa and Richard B. Freeman.

"Immigrants have historically provided one of America's greatest competitive advantages. They have come to the United States largely to work and have played a major role in the country's recent growth. Between 1990 and 2007, the proportion of immigrants in the U.S. labor force increased from 9.3 percent to 15.7 percent.

Approximately 45 percent of the growth of the work force over this period consisted of immigrants. Moreover, a large and growing proportion of immigrants come with high levels of education and skill.

They have contributed disproportionately in the most dynamic part of the U.S. economy - the high-tech sector. Immigrants have co-founded firms such as Google, Intel, eBay, and Yahoo.
And immigrant inventors contributed to more than a quarter of U.S. global patent applications.

Since even before the 2008 financial and economic crisis, some observers have noted that a substantial number of highly skilled immigrants have started returning to their home countries, including persons from low-income countries like India and China who have historically tended to stay permanently in the United States. These returnees contributed to the tech boom in those countries and arguably spurred the growth of outsourcing of back-office processes as well as of research and development."

While I really wish America and Europe very well, I think it is hard to deny that the current turn inwards and against skilled immigration will only serve to accelerate the inevitable. The next 50 years of entrepreneurial innovation will belong to India. The Silent Revolution about which I have written before is well underway.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Rising Tide is Heading Back Home to India

From San Francisco Chronicle today:

"Sachin Maheshwari has the American dream in his grasp. A job at a venture capital firm. An MBA from Wharton. A resume filled with name-brand companies. And now this immigrant from India is moving back to his homeland.

"Here the industry is mature," said Maheshwari, sitting in his office off Sand Hill Road in Palo Alto. "In India, it's booming. In a sector like investing, it's much more exciting there."

He's not the only one heading back. Vivek Wadhwa, a researcher at Duke University who just finished a survey of Indian and Chinese returnees, predicts that 100,000 Indians will return home in the next five years - compared with only 50,000 who have gone back in the past two decades.

"The trickle," Wadhwa said, "is going to become a flood."

Although Chinese returnees, wary about the whims of the communist government, tend to keep a foot in America - often leaving their families in the United States - "the Indians are going back to stay," Wadhwa said. "They want to start companies there."

That, he said, should be ringing alarm bells up and down Silicon Valley."

Read rest of article here.