– Dipta Joshi
The Byju’s owned, edtech company, WhiteHat Jr (estb.2018), a one-on-one coding ed-tech company, has dropped its Rs 20 cr. ($2.6 million) defamation suit against Pradeep Poonia, the ex-CISCO employee who led several social media campaigns against WhiteHat Jr’s aggressive advertising to attract youngsters to learn coding through them. The company filed a suit against Poonia last November for ‘Infringement of registered and unregistered trademarks’, defamation through his comments on WhiteHat Jr’s advertisements and invasion of privacy of the company and its employees. The case was being heard by the Delhi High Court.
“I am of the firm belief that we each have to fight for our own rights and freedoms, and can’t cow down to any company, no matter how powerful,” says Poonia. Having worked in the edtech sector for a short period, Poonia says his aim has been, before and after the case, to make Indian parents aware of the various unethical practices by ed-tech companies in the absence of any regulatory authority checking the impact and quality of their products or even the manner in which they were marketing their products. “The edtech sector in India has boomed in India, especially during the pandemic, but there is no one to hold these companies accountable or responsible for their claims and the psychological pressure that the marketing of these products puts on parents and children,” adds Pradeep Poonia.
WhiteHat Jr’s television commercials highlighted pre-teens getting job offers for their app creation prowess. Other advertisements promoted ‘Wolf Gupta’, a 13-year-old teenager who allegedly landed a Rs 1.2 cr. job at Google due to his coding expertise. With Wolf Gupta having a LinkedIn page listed in his name, it was difficult to know if he was a fictional character or otherwise. Neither did WhiteHat Jr give any disclaimers regarding the character in their advertisements that promoted their ed-tech applications.
However, even after WhiteHat Jr removed references to ‘Wolf Gupta’ from its advertisements, Poonia put up posts commenting the company had ‘murdered’ Wolf Gupta. In their case against him, WhiteHat Jr quoted these comments as one of the instances when Poonia defamed the company. It was also alleged he had invaded the company’s privacy by gaining illegal access to confidential communications between the company’s employees with the children’s parents and posting them on public domain. Poonia’s use of the name, WhiteHat Poonia for his Telegram account and WhiteHat Sr for his twitter account was considered as infringing on the company’s trademark.
Starting with videos on YouTube that questioned the existence of ‘Wolf Gupta’, Poonia took to other social media platforms like Reddit, Twitter, Quora, Telegram, LinkedIn etc. all of which were either temporarily or permanently suspended. “During the first hearing on November 23, when the Delhi High Court passed an interim order, it did put several restrictions but asked me to delete just eight tweets and take down four videos. However, after that again some of my accounts on social media platforms were deactivated despite several reminders from me. These platforms, especially Twitter have always acted as if they are above the law, and action should be taken against them because they hide under the cover of neutrality, but actually do whatever they feel like. However, despite this hurdle, across all platforms, parents and the software engineering community have supported me wholeheartedly,” adds Poonia.
As the posts got viral, WhiteHat Jr, did receive flak regarding its policy of stifling online dissenters by sending takedown notices to the relevant social media platforms. According to newspaper reports, in a LinkedIn post addressing the over-selling issue WhiteHat Jr founder and CEO, Karan Bajaj had admitted WhiteHat Jr had come up with some “poorly designed marketing campaigns” but was correcting the mistake by focussing on the kids’ joy of coding and creation. WhiteHat Jr which has more than 9 million registered students across multiple countries was acquired by Byju’s last August for a whopping Rs 2223cr. making it one of the biggest deals in the ed-tech space.
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