Designing for New Internet Users: Part II

This post is continuation of: Designing for New Internet Users: Part I

When I was in US, it came as a surprise to me that most of the businesses have a website and a contact email id. Because I hadn’t seen every business have an online presence in any form back in India. As opposed to US, not all businesses have a website and contact id, specially SMBs, which account for 80% of jobs in India. The only way to contact them is to pay a visit to them.

Traditionally, no communication happens over email- initially it used to be via inland letters, postcards, and later on got switched to voice communication on landlines and then, mobiles.

Everything still requires hard copies of documents. There are no websites for all the government initiatives, and if there, they exist mainly to administer information, and not for getting the work done online. Almost all the official work happens in-person, where an in-person submission of documents is needed. Hence, the concept of written communication on web is still new to Indians. A lot of Indians don’t understand the notion of email.

Android setup requires an email id to verify a user. However, not everyone in India has an email id. In fact, only a few do. In India, the shopkeepers who sell these phones setup the phone before handing it to the customer. Either they create new ids for these people, of which even these people aren’t aware of, and hence are never leveraged for any other purpose. Or these shopkeepers use some proxy id to setup.

This warrants more research, though the point I’m trying to hit home is credibility. The credibility of these email ids used to set up Android phones is very low. Additionally, Indians have a ‘do-it-for-me’ mindset, they expect the phone seller to handover the phone up and running to them. Once made, people may provide their email id when asked for at establishments, though someone else knows their username and password, and it may be used for xyz purpose. This presents a security threat.

Besides, an email id seems to ask for a lot in terms of a username and password when simple authentication methods have come up on the scene, like OTP verification by communication/e-comm apps. Username and password are two pieces of information to remember, with complex combinations. One of my acquaintances got her email id created to setup her phone. She made a note of her email and password in a diary and keeps it safe somewhere.

Design tip

This problem certainly warrants more research, though something which doesn’t pose a security threat can be explored as a way to verify while setting up the android phone. Besides, something easy that people don’t have to make a diary note to remember. Taking cues from OTP verification, an email id with phone number may hold potential.


From this article on Nielsen Norman group, one of the key insights from a recent research in emerging markets was that a number of users use app locks for apps like Whatsapp, IMO, and even messages. Since phone sharing is a common practice in India, at home as well as work, people are afraid that others may see their personal chats.

I’ve seen the watchman of my building using the security guard’s phone at times. I think sharing phone may be a common practice at work, especially in operational jobs, like Security, Maintenance and Logistics. Subordinates may ask for their supervisor’s phone to make a call, or to check a location on Google Maps. Parents frequently share their phones with their kids at home to let them watch videos and play games, whereas older siblings share their phones with younger ones to let them chat with their friends and watch videos. This sharing is done voluntarily, and rather an impression is set that there is nothing personal on the phone. This is unlike in US, where asking for phone may be viewed as an encroachment on personal space. This quote from a friend sums up the mental model towards sharing:

To prevent this accidental disclosure of sensitive information, a lot of app lockers have come up on the scene. These lockers block access to certain content and apps.

Accidental disclosure of sensitive information holds true for YouTube videos as well. People may not want their family members, colleagues or acquaintances to look at the kind of videos they are looking at. Similar kind of videos may even show up in the recommended videos below the search bar, based on the recently viewed videos, and may spill the beans for the phone owner.

Design tip

Provide an option to run the app in incognito mode just like the browser, and save the hassle of installing one more app to lock other apps.


Rest of the post can be read here: Designing for New Internet Users: Part III

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