On April 7, Ranendra Ojha, a marketing professional from the city of Kolkata, eastern India, was looking forward to installing and using the cool new app, Tata Neu. Super apps are umbrella mobile apps under which companies offer a set of services. But as soon as Ojha installed and registered Tata Neu on his phone number, he was dismayed to see that this newly launched app already had three of his old addresses as well as his full name – details he never got. shared with the app.
Digging further, Ojha realized that the app appeared to have pulled data from the Big Basket grocery app, which Ojha uses frequently. Like Big Basket, Tata Neu belongs to the Tata Group, which is nearly 155 years old. One of India’s largest conglomerates and a household name, the Tata Group sells everything from salt to software, and has recently forayed into the world of consumer tech through a slew of acquisitions.
“Frankly, I was quite shocked that Tata grabbed my personal information from one of the apps they had and used it for this new app,” says Ojha. “Indeed, they shared my personal data with all of the Tata group companies without my permission.”
Another user based in the city of Bangalore, South India, was equally shocked when he saw several addresses (including the address of his old house, where he no longer lives) and his date. already preloaded on Tata Neu when he signed up using his phone number and a one-time password. What he found more perplexing was that his wife’s Tata Neu also had his old office address, which he says they never used for any purpose. “Personally, I’m a very big fan of the Tata Group, and the Tata brand engenders trust,” says Naren, who asked to be quoted under a pseudonym, fearing a backlash from the company. “But that trust is lost when they do this kind of sneaky stuff under the name of user experience.”
Tata Neu launched in the first week of April and had at least 2.2 million downloads. The application hosts all of the company’s brands in industries such as e-commerce, financial services, airline tickets, groceries, drugs and hotels. But the inclusion of pre-loaded personal data in a new app means the Tata Group has managed to register customer data across its online and offline businesses and build their profiles. According to privacy advocates, this is problematic as it happened without users giving their explicit consent and in the absence of a comprehensive data protection law in India.
Tatas, with a market capitalization of over $300 billion at current exchange rates, has had a strong offline presence across a wide range of industries. But, until relatively recently, consumer technology remained an untapped market. So a few years ago, in a bid to compete with tech giants like Amazon and Walmart-owned Flipkart, Tata began building its digital profile by acquiring startups like the online grocery company backed by Alibaba Big Basket and drug delivery startup 1mg, as well as an investment in health and fitness startup Cult.Fit.