WhiteHat jr. is a startup company, platform for children to learn coding was recently acquired by the online learning platform Byju’s. However, the company was caught up in a series of controversies in regards to which the general audience awaited a response. Karan Bajaj explained various points during a live virtual interview held recently, trying to clear off various allegations.
Karan Bajaj headed WhiteHat Jr. had filed a defamation case against Pradeep Poonia last year.
Pradeep Poonia has openly criticised the startup for its misleading and exaggerated marketing strategies. Bajaj, in his counteract, filed a lawsuit seeking $2.7 million for damages. However, he has been accused of accessing the company’s private communication app, spreading the contact number of the teachers and associating the marketing strategies with that of ‘child sexual abuse’.
As per Bajaj, it is in this way that he gathered details and used it to present ingenuine evidence in an attempt of criticising the start-up. He raised questions upon the qualifications of the faculty as well as intensely criticised the kind of marketing strategies followed by the startup. According to Bajaj, his actions can be concluded to be badgering and harassing, especially in concern with the female teachers.
But a pertinent question that arises from Bajaj’s counteract is, why file a defamation case instead of a case about theft and hacking under the IT section or any other criminal offence?
The most obvious answer could be that of discouraging any sort of feedback that is negative regarding the experience at/with WhiteHat jr. The ordinary do not have ample resources and cannot afford to go against the big business houses. Paving way into the news headlines through such a lawsuit can be an implication that WhiteHat jr. is attempting to scare away the ordinary from commenting in a negative manner about the company to protect and build up a superficially positive image in contrast with the reality.
The various justifications provided by Bajaj thereon, in a live interview wasn’t fair enough to define exactly why it chose to go with a defamation lawsuit instead of a criminal offence.
Pradeep Poonia in his defence
Pradeep Poonia posted the following on Linkedin, with reference to the last court hearing: “I had requested documents from ASCI and from National Consumer Helpline, where complaints against WhiteHat were filed.
I had also asked for the records of Wolf Gupta/Ryan Venkat ads from Facebook and Instagram, and the take-down info from Twitter and YouTube. These requests are called “discovery” in legal language.
The hearing couldn’t go on because of some server issues in the high court, but WhiteHatJr is SO predictable.
They opposed my requests for these documents and don’t want these documents to be produced before the Hon’ble Court. They must be scared of what might come out in the open if these documents are given to the court!!”
The next court hearing is awaited to take place on February 1. Coming up for a live interview at such a likely time just before the court hearing, could be means of correcting its public image amidst high levels of criticism. But the fact that that its critique are amongst its own target audience cannot be undermined. The parents/guardians who are enrolling their younger ones for the course, are putting at stake their money and dreams of a bigger and brighter future. Breach of their trust creates a sense of insecurity before they step up to rely their trust on the digital generation’s offered services ever again.
Aniruddh Malpani, an angel investor, has also been hit with a lawsuit of defamation by WhiteHat jr. However, the reason behind it alleges him to have criticised the platform because of his association with other rival platforms.
The startup is blamed for not accepting criticism sportingly and instead, ended up taking down various negative comments from online platforms.
Bajaj spoke against this behaviour and stated that the company does not have the authority, especially when it is still being recognised as a startup, it does not have the ample resources for taking down comments. At the most, it can flag the comments that might have violated the code of conduct. However, the platform where these comments were posted are solely responsible for having the authority to take down these comments. In no way does the company have a role to play here or in no way does it encourage such a manner of handling criticism.
Misleading advertisements and sales strategy
Bajaj owned up to having publicised ingenuine advertisements which provided a superficial image of the company by making unfaithful promises to its target audience. The startup is an online platform for teaching coding to children in the age group of 6 to 18 year old adults.
An imaginary figure of a 12 year old child named ‘Wolf Gupta’ was introduced as someone who landed a lucrative job at Google after completing the courses at WhiteHat jr. The company has also used images of various influential figures in it’s advertising posters.
Bajaj stated that these marketing strategies were all in-house and at that point of the time, before Byju’s acquired the company, the whole of the marketing was handled by the respective authorities and Bajaj wasn’t responsible for approving them. He claimed that it would have again been considered a job of a marketing agency head if he would have been the one to approve 800-900 set of marketing strategies. Being a startup, he was busy focusing on acquiring other needed resources at that time. However, he claims full responsibility for such negligence and that the various advertisements failed to comply with the ethical boundaries.
On the other hand, the use of images of various influential figures was only to bring up their example as an inspiration to several others. He did term these sorts of negligence as a disadvantage of a ‘skeletal marketing department’.
A question upon the pyramid scheme that the company follows was also raised asking if it can be termed as a way of manipulating children. The company had lured the target audience during their free trial that if they brought five more children, they would be rewarded either a robotics kit or a macbook pro. He stated it was an act of reward for the parents who willingly enrolled their children for the course, but the reward was basically given to the children and not the parents. The justification by Bajaj seemed uncertain as it seemed that the scheme was disguised by the term ‘reward‘, in an attempt of protecting the image of the company rendered thereon.
According to them, their students made mobile apps worth billions and have become a favorite of the coders and problem solvers at Silicon Valley. And it turns out these apps are as simple and trivial as calculator apps, simple animation apps.
On social media pages like facebook, WhiteHatJr. has been claiming and appreciating the apps made by their students but they do not share the link of those apps.
Probably because real developers from the industry will criticise for their poor standards and money making machine. If these apps are indeed worth as much as they say it is, why don’t they show it to the world? Why keep the code and the app private?
A viewer posted his feedback upon the interview on youtube commenting: “I am into marketing and until the authorities approve any creative it can not be published anywhere….he is just mumbling because he has nothing to say and just covering up and putting all the blame on other people…”
Another comment says, “why does he keep qouting that he employs many women? Is he hiding behind them?”
One comment clearly stated that the person’s comments on another platform (apparently, Linkedin) was deleted and that Karan Bajaj’s justification for the same isn’t ideal.
A user via Linkedin posted his experience about the unsporting spirit of Whitehat jr. On coming to terms with facing criticism, “I was actively following WhiteHt Jr. vs Pradeep Poonia and really wanted to see it through his eyes. So I commented on their recent post which you can see in the second image I shared.
In no more than 10 minutes my comment disappeared from that post. Proof of which is a screenshot from my friend’s mobile. Damn, their moderation team is fast.”
Companies have been into controversies where there ethics have been questioned as they render much focus on their money making objective rather than the impact it is creating on the innocent. In thus case, the target audience ranges from young children to the 18 year old teens. However, campaigning robustly about promoting coding in such a manner that too on such younger section of the society, is liable to creating pressure on the younger generation. Especially, when now during the pandemic, parents are left with no other option but to accept the digital media for schooling their children at home, experiences like that of at the WhiteHat jr. is making technology a bane rather than a boon. Have you had any experience at the WhiteHat jr. yet? Were you a part of the ideal innocent target audience who helped them make money or were you amongst the critique who tried to blow the whistle for others? Would you justify your part of the treatment by the company based on your experience of the same? If you are not already informed about the matter do not forget to check out what people have shared across the comment section of various sites, at the most recent, on Youtube and Linkedin, about their perspective of the company.
It is on the reader to form his/her opinion based on their experience at WhiteHat jr. amidst several other claims that might or might not form a positive impact. For a few doubtful situations, Mr. Bajaj did his most to solve the query, but with concern to a few other questions, he might have not really been successful in answering the needed.