In your interest.
Online Personal Finance Magazine
No beating about the bush.
The progress of this MLM company reminds one of the Home Trade scam, where the company spent huge money on advertising and signing mega celebrities like Sachin Tendulkar and Shah Rukh Khan to gain publicity, before duping several people, including the stars
Many agents of SpeakAsia, the self-proclaimed 'biggest online survey company', have posted comments all over the Internet about the company's 'Gen X Bazaar' event being held in Goa from May 9 to 11 and the special train that was booked to take participants for the programme.
Some agents said, and we quote, "In the entire history of India this has NEVER happened - it's spectacular. SpeakAsia arranging a special train for SpeakAsians only is a BIG news." More about the special train and Goa bash later.
The company or its agents-sorry panellists and distributors-are spending huge money on advertising, social gatherings and trying to buy credibility for its dubious MLM scheme. Over the past few weeks, SpeakAsia or its distributors have published half-page ads in leading dailies and run ad films on TV channels, especially during the ongoing IPL cricket matches. So many more people have started searching for information about the company and its online survey scheme.
The company had also issued a public notice some time back. But despite the notice, many other people are also coming together on the Internet, forming groups and forums to prevent the MLM scheme from spreading further.
Following letters from Moneylife to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on the issue, the central bank is said to had discussed it and is contemplating action against the MLM company, according to our sources.
Now to the special train and the Goa bash. There is no doubt that booking a special train for a big bash at a beach resort in Goa was done to attract more eyeballs and so hook more gullible people who might choose to join the MLM scheme. For one, booking a special train is not a big deal and can be done by any one who has the money to pay for it. The Indian Railways charges Rs9 lakh as a minimum registration-cum-security amount and the booking must be done 30 days before the date the train is required.
Also, a special train is nothing so special, as people in and around Mumbai are aware. Every year, hundreds of thousands of of people travel by special trains to Mumbai, to pay tribute to Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar on 6th December. (About 200,000 people visited Chaityabhoomi, the memorial site, on 6 December 2010.)
Some SpeakAsia agents have been gung-ho about the cheap fare by the special train. On the contrary, we learn that each agent had to pay $170 for a ticket in the three-tier AC and they were required to pay from their e-wallet accounts, for which the currency conversion rate is Rs50 a dollar. This means the agents paid Rs8,500 or equivalent for the journey by the special train as against the scheduled fare of about Rs1,450.
Some agents said that the $170 included ticket charges and meals. However, even if one were to take into account the ticket fare from Delhi to Goa and back along with meals, the charge should not have been more than Rs5,000 per person. So, the agents paid at least Rs3,500 of their hard-earned money over and above the actual charges from their e-wallet. This excludes the cost of accommodation.
Now about the event. As SpeakAsia often said, it was a Gen X Bazaar, where people (its agents) would come together to shop products from companies like Levis, IFB, Maruti, Skoda, etc. As is the practise with many manufacturers and service providers, they offer additional discounts for a group. (Check some group buying sites) The same logic applies to the Goa bazaar as well and there was nothing special for the agents.
How the agents would carry the products they bought, back home, is a different story. Except for the Levis jeans (that they could wear or carry in their bags) and automobiles (they would have to drive back in the vehicle and forget the special train ride back), all other products would have to be transported and this would cost more money. (Try offering money from an e-wallet to the 'truckwallah' or any local goods carrier.) In addition, the goods purchased at a discount at the bazaar would likely attract local levies, like octroi, that would have to be paid in real currency.
Some agents were very excited about the entertainment programmes in the evenings. According to the information obtained from some blogs, Bollywood actor Rani Mukherjee and Neha Dhupia and performers like Mika Singh and Abhijeet Sawant were there to entertain the agents. All the names mentioned are commercial artists who do entertainment shows anywhere and everywhere for a fee. Here again, nothing special.
A gathering of people under the pretext of a seminar or a bazaar is not unusual, especially in MLM circles. In fact, all multi-level marketing (MLM) companies have such gatherings at posh locations regularly to keep their flock intact and growing. Remember, how JapanLIFE and GoldQuest or QuestNet used to invite people to functions at five-star hotels?
Just for reference, a few years ago, Home Trade endorsed mega celebrities like Sachin Tendulkar, Hrithik Roshan and Shah Rukh Khan to cover up its meticulously planned financial scam. (Read, Home Trade's 'starry' gameplan.)
You may also want to read...
Special report on SpeakAsia by Star News
(Courtesy: Star News)
Third parties, in particular advertisers, have accidentally had access to Facebook users’ accounts, including profiles, photographs and chat, and also had the ability to post messages and mine personal information
New York: Hundreds of thousands of Facebook users’ account details could have been “inadvertently” leaked to third parties, in particular advertisers, over the years, according to data security solutions provider Symantec.
“Symantec has discovered that in certain cases, Facebook IFRAME applications inadvertently leaked access tokens to third parties like advertisers or analytic platforms,” Symantec Corp said in its official blog.
According to a PTI report, third parties, in particular advertisers, have accidentally had access to Facebook users’ accounts, including profiles, photographs and chat, and also had the ability to post messages and mine personal information.
“We estimate that as of April, 2011, close to 100,000 applications were enabling this leakage. We estimate that over the years, hundreds of thousands of applications may have inadvertently leaked millions of ‘access tokens’ to third parties,” the blog post added.
Access tokens are like ‘spare keys’ granted by a Facebook user to the Facebook application. Applications can use these tokens or keys to perform certain actions on behalf of the user or to access the user’s profile.
“Fortunately, these third—parties may not have realised their ability to access this information,” the blog post said.
Facebook has been informed of this development and has taken corrective action to help eliminate this issue. “Facebook was notified of this issue and has confirmed this leakage. Facebook notified us of changes on their end to prevent these tokens from getting leaked,” the blog post said.
If you can’t resist indulging at wayside eateries, or may be even swanky restaurants, you might not know it, but you could be paying for a bout of indigestion or something more serious like hepatitis-B. It’s because we don’t take food safety and hygiene seriously. Section 4 of the RTI Act can help you find out critical details about your favourite food places, so you can be more careful
Last weekend, I was invited to a birthday lunch at a Gujarati thali restaurant where 'aamras' was being served unlimited! While the guests savoured the delicious feast, I was wondering about the hands that must have squeezed out the pulp!
Ever since an inspection of files at the health department of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) revealed that even posh restaurants, some of them in five-star hotels, did not adhere to necessary food safety and kitchen and staff hygiene norms, I am cautious when eating out, and I try to spread the word about why one should avoid throwing so much money for poor service that could likely affect one's health, and probably threaten one's life also.
It all began last year, when we published a report on the increasing cases of gastroenteritis and stomach-related cases in Pune, and a couple of prominent doctors pointed to unhygienic eateries as the culprit. I asked Partha Sarathi Biswas, a young journalist and the bureau chief of Intelligent Pune, the news weekly that I was managing then, to inspect documents pertaining to food inspection reports by food inspectors of the health department who monitor food quality and staff hygiene at restaurants, twice a year.
Partha invoked Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act five times, and collected inspection reports of nearly 300 restaurants located in different localities of Pune. Food inspectors of the health department, whose sole purpose is to check whether restaurants adhere to food safety and health standards, carry with them a form that is filled during an inspection. It contains a list of 29 items that the restaurant is expected to adhere to strictly under the BPMC (Bombay Provisional Municipal Corporation) Act.
To our surprise, such big names like Hotel Blue Diamond, Mainland China, Madhouse Grill, Green Plaza (in upper crust Koregaon Park) and Wadeshwar (an extremely popular udipi place on Fergusson College Road that is patronised by youngsters), were among the restaurants which were sent notices for the "area of the kitchen where food was prepared/cooked or sold and the area where utensils were washed-(found to be) not clean.'' (Note: These are inspection reports for various months in 2010. If any of these restaurants have improved their cleanliness, after receiving notices from the PMC, we welcome it.)
Most shockingly, none of the restaurants (which were inspected) had conducted medical examination of their staff even once, let alone on a regular basis. When asked, most of the restaurant managers had the audacity to say that they could not afford to do it. This means that we could be eating food served by, or even prepared by someone who is suffering from skin disease-let your imagination run if you care to understand the vulnerability of a customer paying good money for probable illnesses.
Parameters used for inspection
When the food inspector goes on inspection, he checks on all the 29 parameters. After the inspection, the food inspector also jots down his own observations on the form. Then the establishment is sent a notice, to rectify the shortcomings that could be hazardous for customers who consume the food.
If it is found on a second inspection that the eatery is continuing to defy norms, the municipal commissioner can suspend the licence for a specific period, or even order the closure of the restaurant in serious cases of food safety violations.
Here are some jottings that Partha found on the inspector's forms:
> "Cobwebs noticed on the walls of the kitchen." - This observation was made by the food inspectors who checked the Green Plaza hotel on Baner Road.
> "Prepared food not covered properly before serving." - Taj Blue Diamond, Mainland China on DP Road and Shingri at Koregaon Park were ticked off for this by food inspectors.
> "Proper care is not taken to prevent the contamination of food by dust, insects, etc, where food is prepared." - Taj Blue Diamond, Shingri on Boat Club Road, Green Plaza in Koregaon Park and Mainland China on DP Road.
> "The kitchen and storeroom used for storing raw materials is not located at a safe distance from bathrooms, gutter or urinals, to avoid contamination of food." - Not through inspector's documents, but through word of mouth, Partha stumbled upon two big restaurants, Khyber and Mayur Thali on Jangli Maharaj Road, where the exhaust fans of the toilets opened out into the kitchen. Notices were served to these establishments and they promised to rectify this. (Note that this observation was made in the last quarter of 2010. If they have amended the placement of the exhaust fans, we welcome it.)
What did we do?
While surfing the Internet, I stumbled upon an online form (image of the page is reproduced below) called the 'Food Illness Report Page' of the Los Angeles Public Health Department which citizens can fill online, if they believe that they have become sick from eating or drinking something, somewhere, and the department will inquire into the matter.
We approached the Municipal Commissioner of Pune, Mahesh Zhagde, and requested him to adopt a similar online process on the PMC's website. Mr Zhagde told us that "this is the best form of social audit" and he included it in the PMC's budget for 2010-2011. The online facility has not yet seen the light of day. Mr Zhagde was unceremoniously transferred, recently, for his stern action against illegal encroachments. We must pursue this matter with the new municipal commissioner, Mahesh Pathak.
You too can replicate this in your city, so that the local government is pressurised to check such practices and take corrective action.
(Vinita Deshmukh is a senior editor, author and convener of Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at [email protected].)