Business Today

When Tech Keeps You Safe

An online marketplace uses tech filters to protect users from scammers and miscreants
twitter-logoBusinessToday.In | Print Edition: October 6, 2019
When Tech Keeps You Safe
Illustration by Raj Verma

OLX, a consumer-to-consumer classifieds business and buying-selling platform, is a household name in India. The global business was set up in 2006, and three years later, the company entered the country as it was one of the biggest markets. Consistent marketing and catchy advertising have turned it into a most-recalled brand whenever people think of selling items they no longer require or want to buy pre-owned products which will suit their budgets. One can buy and sell almost anything on OLX - from mobile phones and dishwashers to cars and even houses. The platform offers a website and an app, and transactions are expected to rise as the economy is slowing and people want to make money from things they own while buyers are unwilling to spend a fortune on new products. But there is a catch. Just like Craigslist, this transaction model requires users to interact with each other, both online and offline, as most people would not buy used goods without checking them out. However, this could lead to a host of security issues. So, steps must be taken to keep users and their transactions safe. We spoke to Lavanya Chandan, Director and General Counsel at OLX India, to understand how the platform uses technology to fight crime.

OLX is vulnerable to cybercrimes, much like other sites or apps, but as discussed above, it has to deal with specific issues. For instance, scammers often create accounts and get online with no real intention of selling anything. They only pretend to do so (and post random product pictures to win your trust) and persuade genuine buyers to pay in advance. If an unsuspecting buyer does so, the so-called 'seller' will disappear with the money, and cannot be reached over phone or e-mail as both will be deactivated. Buyers have fewer opportunities to defraud a seller, but attempts have been made to trick people via UPI (United Payment Interface) apps. In such cases, a fake buyer convinces the seller that she wants to buy an item and asks the latter to accept a UPI request to receive the money. If the seller is new to UPI, she would not realise that the link sent is a debit request and on entering the required PIN, the money will be debited from the seller's account. Personal safety is another hot-button topic besides online fraud. A fraudster will often ask a buyer/seller to meet at an isolated place. It is unwise to meet strangers in secluded places or invite them home to conduct business transactions as one can be easily robbed and harassed.

Quite clearly, a platform like OLX has to combat these issues for its survival. So, the company uses a set of sophisticated and fast-evolving technical filters aimed at second-guessing miscreants. These filters can 'detect' snapshots of 'illegal' products or pornographic photographs posted on the platform instead of pictures of bona fide products. They can also identify certain kinds of phone numbers and locations (such as Nigeria) where so many scams originate. "Where there is a high intention to transact, as is the case with classifieds globally, there are also fraudsters ready to tap into that intent," says Chandan. Therefore, OLX tries to prevent fraudsters from coming on to the platform in the first place. This is done through the usual identification filters. The second phase is about identifying miscreants when they manage to get online. Next, there are measures to warn and educate users through notifications in a timely, context-sensitive manner. Human auditors are also there to review the classifieds caught by filters. Finally, there are helplines and law enforcement in place. But without the first level of technical filters, it will be difficult to stay ahead of scamming issues due to the sheer number of users involved.

Time For A New Coating

Could your must-carry gadgets - cell phones, tabs, laptops, MP3 players, games consoles or power banks - set fire to an aircraft? Yes, if they are powered by lithium-ion batteries. It all started with the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7, and exploding batteries have made it to the headlines with alarming frequencies ever since. The risk is considered so high that frequent fliers are compelled to fly without certain MacBook Pro models.

The tech world has been working on a better battery technology so that we have safer, longer-lasting and more lightweight products. Now, researchers at Stanford University have come up with a solution that may bring the lithium metal batteries out of the labs. These are different from their lithium-ion brethren, but they also have a short life and a tendency to explode. However, Stanford and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory team have developed a coating that helps extend battery life and makes it safer, according to a report published in Stanford News.

A lithium metal battery has tiny dendrites (named so due to their needle-thin forms) in the separator between positive and negative sides which could cause a short circuit. Were it not for this danger, these batteries would have had a future in electric vehicles. But compared to lithium-ion, lithium metal batteries are lighter and carry more charge because they do not use graphite. Given more reliability, they could also be used in phones and other gadgets. Lithium-ion batteries have an annual market worth $30 billion, but they are at the end of the innovation cycle, and a new product is expected to plug all loopholes.

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