Tag Archives: Next Billion Users

Meet the researcher creating more access with language

When you’ve got your hands full, so you use your voice to ask your phone to play your favorite song, it can feel like magic. In reality, it’s a more complicated combination of engineering, design and natural language processing at work, making it easier for many of us to use our smartphones. But what happens when this voice technology isn’t available in our own language? 

This is something Google India researcher Shachi Dave considers as part of her day-to-day work. While English is the most widely spoken language globally, it ranks third as the most widely spoken native language (behind Mandarin and Spanish)—just ahead of Hindi, Bengali and a number of other languages that are official in India. Home to more than one billion people and an impressive number of official languages—22, to be exact—India is at the cutting edge of Google’s language localization or L10n (10 represents the number of letters between ‘l’ and ‘n’) efforts. 

Shachi, who is a founding member of the Google India Research team, works on natural language understanding, a field of artificial intelligence (AI) which builds computer algorithms to understand our everyday speech and language. Working with Google’s AI principles, she aims to ensure teams build our products to be socially beneficial and inclusive. Born and raised in India, Shachi graduated with a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Southern California. After working at a few U.S. startups, she joined Google over 12 years ago and returned to India to take on more research and leadership responsibilities. Since she joined the company, she has worked closely with teams in Mountain View, New York, Zurich and Tel Aviv. She also actively contributes towards improving diversity and inclusion at Google through mentoring fellow female software engineers.

How would you explain your job to someone who isn't in tech?

My job is to make sure computers can understand and interact with humans naturally, a field of computer science we call natural language processing (NLP). Our research has found that many Indian users tend to use a mix of English and their native language when interacting with our technology, so that’s why understanding natural language is so important—it’s key to localization, our efforts to provide our services in every language and culture—while making sure our technology is fun to use and natural-sounding along the way.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’re tackling in your work now?


The biggest challenge is that India is a multilingual country, with 22 official languages. I have seen friends, family and even strangers struggle with technology that doesn’t work for them in their language, even though it can work so well in other languages. 

Let’s say one of our users is a shop owner and lives in a small village in the southern Indian state of Telangana. She goes online for the first time with her phone. But since she has never used a computer or smartphone before, using her voice is the most natural way for her to interact with her phone. While she knows some English, she is also more comfortable speaking in her native language, Telugu. Our job is to make sure that she has a positive experience and does not have to struggle to get the information she needs. Perhaps she’s able to order more goods for her shop through the web, or maybe she decides to have her services listed online to grow her business. 

So that’s part of my motivation to do my research, and that’s one of Google’s AI Principles, too—to make sure our technology is socially beneficial. 

Speaking of the AI Principles, what other principles help inform your research?

Another one of Google’s AI Principles is avoiding creating or reinforcing unfair bias. AI systems are good at recognizing patterns within data. Given that most data that we feed into training an AI system is generated by humans, it tends to have human biases and prejudices. I look for systematic ways to remove these biases. This requires constant awareness: being aware of how people have different languages, backgrounds and financial statuses. Our society has people from the entire financial spectrum, from super rich to low-income, so what works on the most expensive phones might not work on lower-cost devices. Also, some of our users might not be able to read or write, so we need to provide some audio and visual tools for them to have a better internet experience.

What led you to this career and inspired you to join Google?  

I took an Introduction to Artificial Intelligence course as an undergraduate, and it piqued my interest and curiosity. That ultimately led to research on machine translation at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay and then an advanced degree at the University of Southern California. After that, I spent some time working at U.S. startups that were using NLP and machine learning. 

But I wanted more. I wanted to be intellectually challenged, solving hard problems. Since Google had the computing power and reputation for solving problems at scale, it became one of my top choices for places to work. 

Now you’ve been at Google for over 12 years. What are some of the most rewarding moments of your career?

Definitely when I saw the quality improvements I worked on go live on Google Search and Assistant, positively impacting millions of people. I remember I was able to help launch local features like getting the Assistant to play the songs people wanted to hear. Playing music upon request makes people happy, and it’s a feature that still works today. 

Over the years, I have gone through difficult situations as someone from an underrepresented group. I was fortunate to have a great support network—women peers as well as allies—who helped me. I try to pay it forward by being a mentor for underrepresented groups both within and outside Google.

How should aspiring AI researchers prepare for a career in this field? 

First, be a lifelong learner: The industry is moving at a fast pace. It’s important to carve out time to keep yourself well-read about the latest research in your field as well as related fields.

Second, know your motivation: When a problem is super challenging and super hard, you need to have that focus and belief that what you’re doing is going to contribute positively to our society.

A more inclusive global digital economy

Editor’s Note: The following is adapted from remarks delivered by Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, at the Singapore FinTech Festival today on the need and opportunity to build a more inclusive global digital economy.


Thank you to the Monetary Authority of Singapore for the invitation to speak today—and for hosting this important event. While I hope we can have these big conversations in person again soon, I am grateful for all the ways that technology has kept us connected during the pandemic.


We’ve seen this year how online has been a lifeline. In Southeast Asia, 8 out of 10 people said that technology helped them navigate the pandemic, whether it was families searching for the latest COVID-19 information, small businesses using digital tools to reach new customers or students continuing to learn remotely.


Being helpful in these moments is at the core of Google’s mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. We’re proud that users turned to products like Search, YouTube, and Maps to help people get through uncertainty, and that tools like Meet and Google Classroom helped keep people connected and businesses productive in these times. 


Southeast Asia’s digital transformation


COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of digital tools and trends by years. As a result, the Southeast Asian internet economy is on the verge of a massive transformation. A recent report we did with Temasek and Bain & Company shows that more than 40 million people in the region connected to the internet for the first time in 2020—that’s four times as many as the year before. In addition, one in three digital service consumers were new to a service, like virtual learning or buying groceries online. And 90 percent intend to continue using that service post-pandemic.


These digital trends aren’t just happening in cities. In places like Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, more than half of first-time users were from outside metropolitan areas, which shows huge promise for closing the urban-rural digital divide.


While COVID has accelerated the use of digital tools, it’s also exposed how many people  are still left behind: from the 1.7 billion people around the world who are still unbanked, to the huge portion of African households without access to broadband, to millions of women entrepreneurs who lack the same access to opportunity as their male counterparts.


A more inclusive global digital economy


So the question is: how can we use this moment to reimagine a more inclusive digital economy? One that brings the benefits of the internet to everyone?


The answer is two-fold: First, by accelerating progress in closing the digital divide, which means expanding connectivity, financial inclusion, and digital skills. Second, by deepening partnerships between governments and business, which means  building on the new collaborations we’ve seen during COVID.  


Connectivity as the foundation


The question of inclusion and opportunity is deeply personal to me. Growing up in India, I didn’t have much access to a computer, or a phone. To make a call, I had to wait in long lines to use a shared phone with everyone else. So when our family finally got our first rotary phone, it changed our lives for the better, and it set me on a course to help bring technology to more people around the world. 


Today, an internet connection is the single best way to make technology available to more people. At Google, we are focused on the infrastructure—like the subsea cables we’re building between Western Europe and the West Coast of Africa, as well as the affordable, low-cost devices that can transform digital access—something our Android teams are working on with Jio Platforms in India.


Increasing financial inclusion with Google Pay


Of course, it’s not just about connecting to the internet that’s important, it’s about what people can do with that connectivity. One of the most exciting advancements is financial connectivity, which ensures that everyone can participate in the economic system.


That idea is what inspired us to launch Google Tez, now Google Pay, our first digital payment platform, in India in 2017. At the time, my home country was still largely a cash-based society. Since then, digital payments services have helped reshape how transactions are made. They’ve increased financial inclusion by making payments simple and seamless for over a hundred million Indians.


This historic shift has changed what’s possible for business owners like Vijay Babu, who runs a laundry shop in Bangalore. Two years ago, Vijay would have had to pay $100 for a credit card terminal, worry about printed receipts, and wait days to get paid. 


Today, with Google Pay, and a little help from his daughter, Vijay is able to keep better track of his transactions, accept payments remotely, and build relationships with his customers.


There are many others like Vijay. People are using Google Pay to do everything from send money home to their families and split the check for dinner. Kirana store owners are using it to pay their business expenses, as well as receive payments from their loyal customers.


All told, people in India complete more than three billion digital transactions a month, two thirds of which are taking place outside India’s biggest cities. Digital payment transactions across Southeast Asia are set to almost double to $1.2 trillion by 2025.


Now, we’re using the same technology to improve Google Pay globally, starting in Singapore and the U.S., with more to come. And we’re partnering with organizations like the Gates Foundation, Omidyar Network, the Rockefeller Foundation and others to drive Mojaloop, a nonprofit creating open-source tools any country and organization can use to develop its own digital payments system.


Bringing digital skills and tools to more people


Connectivity is the foundation of a more inclusive digital economy. The next layer is ensuring that everyone, including small businesses, have access to digital skills and tools. One example is the work that the Asia Foundation is doing, with support from our philanthropic arm Google.org, to train 200,000 small business owners and workers across Southeast Asia. 


This program means local nonprofits can help people like Lakela, an avocado farmer from Thailand who used YouTube to learn how to grow other types of fruit, and create new revenue streams for her business.


We’re also investing in the innovation ecosystem, including entrepreneurs and start-ups, to ensure digital economies are sustainable.


Power of partnerships


We can’t do any of this alone. That’s why partnerships are the second part of our agenda.


We have good models to build from. One of the bright spots in this year has been the strong partnerships forged between companies, governments, and NGOs, working together toward shared goals. Building a more inclusive digital economy will require this same spirit of collaboration.


A place to start is digital trade. In Southeast Asia alone, it’s estimated that expanding business and trade through technology could add $1 trillion to overall regional GDP by 2025. And it will help entrepreneurs grow across borders, leading to more jobs, better services and new opportunities.


Unlocking those benefits requires the right frameworks. Singapore and the Asia Pacific region are pioneering new approaches. New digital economy agreements could provide a template for other parts of the world, alongside broader trade deals like the new Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.  By maximizing these digital agreements—and creating new ones—we can pave the way for a stronger, more inclusive digital economy. 


From closing digital divides to forging new partnerships, our goal for the post-COVID world is to ensure the benefits of technology can be shared as widely and equitably as possible.  


If we can do that, 2020 will be remembered not as the end of the world we knew, but the beginning of a world that works better, for everyone. We look forward to building that world alongside all of you.

Rise and move forward together: Indonesia’s digital future

In a year like no other, Indonesian entrepreneurs have shown grit and determination to keep their businesses running for the communities that rely on them. They’ve also shown great creativity in adapting new tools and technologies—like Ida, the owner of a traditional cake business in Lombok who saw business dry up when local schools were forced to close. After taking a Women Will course, Ida used Google My Business to connect with her customers, promote her range of cakes throughout Indonesia, and ultimately increase her income by 60 percent. Now she’s working with other women entrepreneurs in her community to help them make the most of technology in their own businesses.  


At today’s virtual Google for Indonesia, we celebrated this entrepreneurial spirit in adversity— and shared new initiatives to help the businesses and workers most in need. We also deepened our commitment to building a strong, inclusive digital economy for all Indonesians, reflecting the theme of this year’s event: bangkit dan maju sama-sama (rise and move forward together).  


Helping businesses and workers most in need


For many Indonesian business owners, the first priority continues to be funding their operations through the downturn, so they can rebuild. Together with Kiva and local financial service providers, we’ve created a $10 million fund to extend low-interest loans to the small businesses hit hardest by COVID-19—in particular, those from underserved communities.  


To support the fight against youth unemployment, Google.org will make a $1 million grant to Yayasan Plan International Indonesia (Plan Indonesia), helping launch a program that will provide training and job matching assistance for over 5,000 young people.


And as workers of all ages look to find work and improve their skills, we’ll continue to expand our Kormo Jobs app with roles in sectors like logistics and essential services, and add new tools to meet job-seekers’ needs. The app already provides remote work listings and the option to interview remotely. From here, we’re adding AI-enabled learning to help job-seekers practise English, and partnering with ARKADEMI &QuBisa to offer additional certified courses, including foundational IT training and advice on mastering recruitment processes. 


Preparing for a strong digital future


Technology has helped Indonesia weather COVID-19, and it will have an even bigger role in our future beyond the pandemic. The eConomy SEA 2020 report, released last week, showsIndonesians adopting new digital services faster than ever, while research from AlphaBeta finds that a digitally-skilled workforce could add more than $300 billion to Indonesia’s GDP by 2030.  


Realizing that potential means equipping more Indonesians with digital knowledge and confidence, and we’re committed to playing our part. This year, we’ve expanded and adapted our training initiatives across different areas of technology—hand in hand with the Indonesian government and our partners in business and the nonprofit sector.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 200,000 Indonesian small businesses have completed online Grow with Google skills courses, taking the total number to 1.7 million since 2015. Google Cloud has held 150,000 training labs to help Indonesians get cloud-related skills, complementing the opening of the Jakarta cloud region earlier this year. And YouTube’s Akademi Edukreator partnership with Kok Bisa has trained more than 1,000 teachers, young professionals, students and content creators to produce educational video content — with more in-depth training planned as we keep building the “educreator” community. 

Today, we also announced an expansion of Bangkit: a collaboration between the Indonesian government, Google and Indonesia’s biggest technology companies, created to encourage the next generation of technology talent. 


Already, we’re seeing graduates from the first Bangkit cohort—many of them young women—go on to jobs throughout the private sector, pursuing big ambitions for careers at the forefront of technology. Next year, up to 3,000 Bangkit students will have the chance to pursue courses across six different tracks, from machine learning and Android development to the fundamentals of cloud. 

Bangkit graduate Irfani

Irfani Sakinah, a 23-year old graduate from Makkassar, secured a job as a data scientist in Jakarta after completing the Bangkit program. 

With the energy and ideas of the next generation, and the solidarity we saw shine through at Google for Indonesia, I have no doubt that Indonesians will rise above the challenges of 2020, and move forward to a stronger future together.

The opportunity for “Digital Sprinters”

People around the world are confronting once-in-a-generation challenges: a global pandemic, an economic downturn of unprecedented proportions, rising demands for equity, and dramatic strains on financial resources.

The rain from this perfect storm is falling hardest on emerging markets. In many cases, they’re struggling to manage the pandemic with fewer public health resources and also suffer from greater economic vulnerabilities. Yet emerging markets also have some of the most vibrant economies and greatest entrepreneurial energy in the world. With the right policy frameworks, they can become ideal launching pads for future innovation. This challenging moment may be exactly the right time for these economies to pursue ambitious digital transformation, using their immediate recovery efforts to develop sustainable economic gains.

Nearly a third of U.S. small business owners are using digital tools to save their business during the COVID-19 crisis. In emerging markets too, digital technologies are often providing a lifeline: a plus-size clothes designer in Manaus, Brazil, a musical instruments maker in Istanbul, Turkey and an owner of a guest house in Durban, South Africa have all been able to survive by using digital technologies and online commerce.



Becoming “Digital Sprinters”
We call these emerging economies “Digital Sprinters” because, by becoming more digital, they have the potential to sprint ahead toward economic development. Based on our experiences, we believe governments and the private sector should focus on four key areas, as detailed in a report we're releasing today:



  • Physical capital: this is about digital connectivity and infrastructure. It’s not just about investment but also how infrastructure is managed.
  • Human capital: countries need a comprehensive approach to worker training, economic security, entrepreneurship, and combating discrimination.
  • Technology: increasing the use of data, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing, which empower the growth of next-generation technologies and unlock future growth. This means new opportunities alongside new questions about how best to harness these technologies.
  • Competitiveness: policies that promote competitive and open markets, interoperable regulatory standards, and tax regimes that are predictable and based on international standards.

Our recommendations reflect just one perspective on public policy frameworks for digital transformation. We hope that the report will help advance conversations about digitally-driven growth among governments, civil society, international organizations, academic institutions and entrepreneurs.

Potential economic gains
The economic potential from digital transformation is huge. A new study finds that, by 2030, digital transformation could generate as much $3.4 trillion of economic value in these Digital Sprinter markets. At a country level this translates to 25 percent of GDP in Brazil, 31 percent in Saudi Arabia and 33 percent in Nigeria, to name a few examples.


Emerging markets face a watershed moment today. As COVID-19 is disrupting world order and breaking supply chains, emerging markets have an opportunity to transform and emerge as stronger players. We hope these reports published today can play a part in helping decision-makers take advantage of these opportunities.



Posted by Kent Walker, Senior Vice President of Global Affairs.

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The opportunity for “Digital Sprinters”

People around the world are confronting once-in-a-generation challenges: a global pandemic, an economic downturn of unprecedented proportions, rising demands for equity, and dramatic strains on financial resources. 

The rain from this perfect storm is falling hardest on emerging markets. In many cases, they’re struggling to manage the pandemic with fewer public health resources and also suffer from greater economic vulnerabilities. Yet emerging markets also have some of the most vibrant economies and greatest entrepreneurial energy in the world. With the right policy frameworks, they can become ideal launching pads for future innovation. This challenging moment may be exactly the right time for these economies to pursue ambitious digital transformation, using their immediate recovery efforts to develop sustainable economic gains. 

Nearly a third of U.S. small business owners are using digital tools to save their business during the COVID-19 crisis. In emerging markets too, digital technologies are often providing a lifeline: a plus-size clothes designer in Manaus, Brazil, a musical instruments maker in Istanbul, Turkey and an owner of a guest house in Durban, South Africa have all been able to survive by using digital technologies and online commerce.

Becoming “Digital Sprinters”

We call these emerging economies “Digital Sprinters” because, by becoming more digital, they have the potential to sprint ahead toward economic development. Based on our experiences, we believe governments and the private sector should focus on four key areas, as detailed in a report we're releasing today:

Four key areas to focus on regarding "Digital Sprinters"
  • Physical capital: this is about digital connectivity and infrastructure. It’s not just about investment but also how infrastructure is managed.
  • Human capital: countries need a comprehensive approach to worker training, economic security, entrepreneurship, and combating discrimination.
  • Technology: increasing the use of data, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing, which empower the growth of next-generation technologies and unlock future growth. This means new opportunities alongside new questions about how best to harness these technologies.
  • Competitiveness:policies that promote competitive and open markets, interoperable regulatory standards, and tax regimes that are predictable and based on international standards.

Our recommendations reflect just one perspective on public policy frameworks for digital transformation. We hope that the report will help advance conversations about digitally-driven growth among governments, civil society, international organizations, academic institutions and entrepreneurs.

Potential economic gains

The economic potential from digital transformation is huge. A new study finds that, by 2030, digital transformation could generate as much $3.4 trillion of economic value in these Digital Sprinter markets. At a country level this translates to 25 percent of GDP in Brazil, 31 percent in Saudi Arabia and 33 percent in Nigeria, to name a few examples.


Emerging markets face a watershed moment today. As COVID-19 is disrupting world order and breaking supply chains, emerging markets have an opportunity to transform and emerge as stronger players. We hope these reports published today can play a part in helping decision-makers take advantage of these opportunities.

Bickey Russell finds inspiration from his native Bangladesh

Welcome to the latest edition of “My Path to Google,” where we talk to Googlers, interns and alumni about how they got to Google, what their roles are like and even some tips on how to prepare for interviews.


Having spent his childhood between London, Milan and Dhaka, Bangladesh, Bickey Russell began his career at Google in sales before pursuing his passion for developing technology to serve under-resourced communities. Today, he’s the founder and leader of Kormo Jobs. Guided by Google's commitment to our AI Principles, Bickey and his team are helping job seekers across Bangladesh, Indonesia, and India find meaningful work. 


What’s your role at Google?

I founded the Kormo Jobs app and currently lead global product operations for it as well as some other new projects in the Next Billion Users initiative at Google.


I drive Kormo Jobs’ go-to-market approach. This involves things like working with employers to use Kormo Jobs to post openings on our platform and building up a community of job seekers who get value from Kormo Jobs as they look for work and grow their careers.

Students holding up pamphlets about Kormo

Participants at a vocational training institute in Jakarta learning about Kormo.

You’ve held a few different roles in multiple offices. How did you end up working on Kormo Jobs? 

I’m super passionate about the positive impact technology can have on society in countries like my native Bangladesh. Throughout my career at Google I have moved from business analysis to sales, partnerships management and leadership roles, and worked in London, Mountain View and currently, Singapore. Despite all that change, I have always been involved with initiatives to make Google products work better in Bangladesh—ranging from Maps to Bangla language capabilities. 


In 2016, I was fortunate to be able to collaborate with colleagues and pitch an app idea I had to Google’s internal innovation incubator, Area 120. We were hoping to use machine learning to build a better way to help people in Bangladesh get jobs in more blue-collar sectors. Our small team was fortunate to join the Area 120 program, and after just three years, our app became a Google product. Kormo Jobs is live in Bangladesh, India and Indonesia. 

And what were you up to before joining Google?

I grew up in London, Milan and Dhaka, spending middle school and high school  in Dhaka before returning to London for university where I did a degree in geography.

I worked in retail throughout my time in university. The highlight was probably selling band t-shirts in Camden Market! My first full-time job was working as a researcher, and then as a business analyst. 

Can you tell us about your decision to apply to Google?

I was fascinated by the Internet, and I wanted to join a fast-paced company that has an entrepreneurial and open working culture. Google’s vision was majorly inspiring and so attractive to me at the time, and it still is. I felt that if I could join a company like that, I could make an impact.

I applied via the Google careers page. The interview day was quite nerve-wracking, but actually a lot of fun. I remember talking a lot about my interest in cricket, plus my favorite websites and Google products. I was also asked to propose a plan on how we might develop the market for Google AdWords in the UK for a particular industry. That was a challenge, but I guess I did okay!

Bickey presenting on a large stage with a display of the Kormo app on a screen behind him.

Bickey presenting the Kormo app at a Google India event.

Can you tell us about the resources you used to prepare for your interview or role?

I didn’t know anyone who worked at Google at the time, but since I knew the job was to join the advertising business in the UK, I reached out and talked to a lot of my network in the advertising and media space to prepare. Plus, I used Search to do research!


Do you have any tips you’d like to share with aspiring Googlers?

I would say that aspiring Googlers should really think about why they are interested in the specific role they are applying for. I often interview candidates who are keen to work at Google but haven’t done enough preparation on why they would be a good fit for the role and team that they have applied to join.

Bickey working with an employer using Kormo.

Bickey working with an employer using Kormo.

What inspires you to log in every day?

Having been at the company a long time, I’ve seen firsthand countless times the impact technology can have on people and society at large.


I am inspired by the fact that Google’s AI Principles guide us to make socially beneficial AI systems—and that I get to work with an amazing team at Kormo Jobs to put this principle into practice every day. We invest in applying our tech capability to solving important problems—finding work, earning money, building a career—to people in places like my home town of Dhaka.


Every day I get excited when I see that we’ve helped more people get a job than we did the day before.

Building a more inclusive internet, beyond COVID-19

Between 2015 and 2020, more than 1.5 billion people began using the internet for the first time. Another billion more are set to join them online by 2025.

Most of these new internet users come from Asia, Latin America and Africa. They experience the internet differently from those who came before them—connecting on their phones and adopting new apps and tools incredibly quickly.  More and more, it’s their needs and ideas that are shaping the future of technology, in areas from financial inclusion to language translation

Today, though, new internet users face their biggest challenge—the impact of COVID-19. How we help them get through it will go a long way towards ensuring the recovery from the pandemic is inclusive and sustainable. 

A half-decade of change  

Without question, the internet is more accessible and democratic than it was in 2015. Data costs have plummeted, helping the number of smartphone owners reach more than three billion people. The proportion of non-English speakers using the internet has reached three quarters of the global total, and people around the world are increasingly using video and voice as their tools to find information and services online.

The changing digital landscape 2015-2020
New users trends 2015-2020

For Google, our work building for new users has helped us build better for everyone. Since we launched the Next Billion Users initiative five years ago, it’s led to breakthroughs we wouldn’t otherwise have made—from offline modes in YouTube and Maps, to AI that can help kids read in multiple languages, apps that protect privacy on shared devices, and the new user experience in Google Pay (first launched  in India and soon coming to the rest of the world). We’re also sharing open-source tools and guidelines to help others, because we know that supporting new users is a shared goal.

Google NBU product launches

Over the past-half decade, the technology industry has made meaningful progress in closing digital divides, helping millions more people a week share in the benefits technology creates. Yet as the pandemic increases the importance of technology in our lives, work, education and health, the risk is that this progress will slow or, worse, reverse. 

The impact of COVID-19

We asked new internet users how the coronavirus has affected them, and many told us it’s added to pressures they already face. At a time when essential services are increasingly moving online, it’s becoming harder and harder for new users to access the internet in the first place.  

The combination of fewer jobs, lower income and higher prices means they’re forced to ration their data. Food and shelter have to take priority—and with more people at home, even when data is available, it tends to be spread thinly across multiple family members.  

On top of that, a lack of digital literacy means new users often struggle to take advantage of government financial aid, community resources or schooling. And when it comes to the virus itself, many are finding it hard to separate fact from misinformation, or to find reliable healthcare options.

Not surprisingly, all this is taking a toll on new internet users’ sense of emotional wellbeing, interrupting their support systems and forcing them to put some of their aspirations on hold. 

Impact of COVID-19 on new users

How we help new users from here: economy, education, ecosystem

Countering the impact of the virus by helping new users through and beyond COVID should be a priority for industry, governments, international organizations and nonprofits.

First, we have to make sure new users have easy-to-use tools that meet their immediate economic needs.

We recognise Google’s responsibility in this. Apps like Kormo Jobs in Bangladesh, India and Indonesia — which connects people to entry level jobs—are already playing a role helping people find work. In the coming months, we’ll be experimenting with a new Google product that can provide additional earning opportunities through crowdsourcing, recognising that for most new internet users, protecting income is the first priority. 

Second, we have to increase our focus on education—helping new users better understand online information and services, and adapt to deeper changes like the rise of online education. 

Grassroots, nonprofit-led literacy initiatives like those Google.org is supporting in Southeast Asia are important steps in the right direction. So too are the Google News Initiative’s partnerships throughout Latin America, and Grow with Google’s global programs like Be Internet Awesome, which promotes online safety and confidence for kids. It’s critical that we build on these programs in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

Third, we have to keep building a supportive ecosystem around new users. We should aspire for every organization that owns or builds technology to prioritize inclusion.

Too often, the responsibility for helping new users get online falls to ‘informal teachers’, the friends and family around them. Initiatives like the Design Toolkit for Digital Confidence show how we can begin to change that, equipping technology-makers to build tools that are intuitive for everyone, no matter what their circumstances.

Finally, we have to keep advancing the work that led Google to create the NBU initiative in 2015: ensuring the internet and the devices and the tools it supports are helpful and accessible to more people, in more languages and more ways (including for those living with disabilities). 

COVID-19 is a challenge for everyone, and it’s hitting new internet users especially hard. But if governments, businesses and civil society organizations work together, we can and should make the internet better and more inclusive in the post-COVID world, for the billions online today, and the next billion to come.


Android 11 (Go edition): New features coming to more devices

We first introduced Android (Go edition) in 2018 to provide a high-quality smartphone experience for entry-level device owners around the world. Since then, Android (Go edition) has brought improved speed, reliability, and security to over 100 million entry-level devices through apps and features specifically built to address local needs. Continuing on with that same mission, here’s a look at what’s new in Android 11 (Go edition).  


Improving communication, privacy and usability

On Android 11 (Go edition)  apps launch 20 percent faster than they did on Android 10 (Go edition), making it easier for you to switch between apps without your phone getting bogged down. 


Around the world people use different messaging apps to stay in touch, so they often find themselves toggling between them to chat with family and friends. Now Android 11 (Go edition) shows all of your conversations in a dedicated space in the notification section. This means you can see, respond to, and manage your conversations with family and friends all in one place, no matter what apps they use. 


Affordability shouldn’t mean compromising privacy and security, which is why we’ve ensured that Go edition smartphones have access to the same industry-leading privacy protections as any Android device. Android 11 (Go edition) comes with new privacy enhancements that make it easier to control how and when data on your device is shared. With one-time permissions, you can grant an app access to specific sensors like your microphone, camera or location, just in that instance. And if you haven’t used an app for an extended period of time, app permissions will “auto-reset” and you will immediately receive a notification of the change. You can always choose to re-grant the app permissions the next time you open the app. 


03_revoked.gif


Grant individual apps one-time permissions to access sensors like your microphone, camera or location.

As devices with larger screen displays become more common,  Android 11 (Go edition) helps you take advantage of the increased screen real estate for your favorite apps. With gesture-based navigation you can go to the home screen, navigate backward, and fluidly switch between apps using simple swipes.

04_gesture-nav-go.gif


Switch between apps using simple swipes with gesture navigation


New app features

This year, we’ve also introduced improvements to our suite of apps that were specially designed for entry-level smartphones. For example, Safe Folder is a new feature in Files by Google that protects  personal files from being opened or accessed by others by storing them in a 4-digit PIN-encrypted folder.

Safe Folder Walkthrough GIF.gif


Browse files  safely and securely with PIN-encrypted Safe Folder


More memory, more devices, more options

In the past two years, smartphone manufacturers have produced high-quality Android devices—with features like dual cameras or fingerprint scanners—at more affordable prices. As more of these memory-intensive features come to entry-level smartphones, our partners have asked us to improve performance on these devices, particularly around speed, storage, and memory. So, starting next month Android (Go edition) will be available on all devices with up to 2GB of memory.

With the expansion to 2GB, apps launch up to 20 percent faster, and with an additional 270 MB of additional free memory, people can now run three to four more apps in the background. Android (Go edition) on 2GB devices also comes with up to 900MB of additional free storage space—enough to take up to 300 more selfies and download an entire movie.


Learn more at android.com/go

Reinforcing our commitment to foundational literacy with Read Along



Learning to read forms the foundation of literacy and can unlock many opportunities in life. However there are challenges in this becoming a reality: according to the annual ASER 2018 report, of all students enrolled in grade 5 in rural India only about half of them can confidently read a grade 2 level textbook. Today, on the occasion of  International Literacy Day, we want to reiterate our focus on the universal development of foundational literacy skills. The National Mission for Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) further emphasizes the urgency of achieving this goal.  

At Google, we deeply believe that technology can help kids around the world learn to read. In 2018, we released Bolo, an AI-enabled Android app to help kids improve reading skills. We have seen positive feedback from parents and educators across the country. Rakesh, a committed volunteer from a small village in Rajasthan, heard about the app from our partner NGO Kaivalya Education Foundation (a Piramal Foundation Initiative). He now uses it to help his students practice reading, and believes the app will go a long way to have lasting effects on his community. Bolo is now available as Read Along in over 180 countries and 10 languages.

Positive impact on reading outcomes and ecosystem recommendations

Rakesh’s story is similar to the encouraging feedback we’ve received from many other parents and children. To date, over 7 million students have cumulatively read more than 32 million stories on the app. We’re also seeing a positive impact of Read Along on children’s reading abilities. Our internal analysis shows that after reading 100 mins on the app, beginner readers (those who read at a speed of less than 45 correct words per minute) see an improvement from 38 percent to 88 percent in their oral reading fluency. 

In an assessment conducted by an independent partner comprising over 3,500 students in three languages and across five states in India, 40 percent more students who used Read Along saw an improvement of one or more reading levels as compared to students not using the app. 


Through our experience and on the ground partnerships we have also collated some key learnings relevant to anyone trying to leverage technology in the space of improving early age literacy 
  1. Achieving Scale: Integrating technology solution in existing NGO/Government led programs enables impact at scale.
  2. Supporting parents/guardians: A strong orientation program for parents/guardians is critical to enable device access and learning support for children
  3. Supporting educators: Technologies like Read Along can be easily integrated in lesson plans to make reading fun even in low tech classrooms. 

New features and books to improve the reading experience

While we’re both humbled and excited by these results, our work doesn’t stop here. Starting today, Read Along:  
  • Has more than 700 unique books across all languages, with a refreshing new look for the content library 
  • Features improvements that make it easier for multilingual kids to switch languages or get phonics support when they tap a word
We are working on features to aid comprehension and give educators the ability to create student reading groups and track progress. We are also making Read Along more accessible in the landscape mode.

Celebrate the joy of reading by taking part in our Story-A-Thon 

This International Literacy Day, we invite parents to continue to read to their kids -- both with and without Read Along -- and share stories written by their children. Read Along will publish few stories on open source platforms like Global Digital Library and Pratham Storyweaver.

Through our partnership with the Uttar Pradesh Basic Education Department on Mission Prerna and NGOs like CSF, KEF, Pratham, Saajha and more, we have been able to reach students who need support. As India embarks upon the NEP 2020 led FLN mission, we are committed to working with individuals, schools, corporate partners, NGOs and governments to help every child achieve their full potential. 

Posted by Nikita Bharadia, Product Marketing Manager, Education

Reinforcing our commitment to foundational literacy with Read Along



Learning to read forms the foundation of literacy and can unlock many opportunities in life. However there are challenges in this becoming a reality: according to the annual ASER 2018 report, of all students enrolled in grade 5 in rural India only about half of them can confidently read a grade 2 level textbook. Today, on the occasion of  International Literacy Day, we want to reiterate our focus on the universal development of foundational literacy skills. The National Mission for Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) further emphasizes the urgency of achieving this goal.  

At Google, we deeply believe that technology can help kids around the world learn to read. In 2018, we released Bolo, an AI-enabled Android app to help kids improve reading skills. We have seen positive feedback from parents and educators across the country. Rakesh, a committed volunteer from a small village in Rajasthan, heard about the app from our partner NGO Kaivalya Education Foundation (a Piramal Foundation Initiative). He now uses it to help his students practice reading, and believes the app will go a long way to have lasting effects on his community. Bolo is now available as Read Along in over 180 countries and 10 languages.

Positive impact on reading outcomes and ecosystem recommendations

Rakesh’s story is similar to the encouraging feedback we’ve received from many other parents and children. To date, over 7 million students have cumulatively read more than 32 million stories on the app. We’re also seeing a positive impact of Read Along on children’s reading abilities. Our internal analysis shows that after reading 100 mins on the app, beginner readers (those who read at a speed of less than 45 correct words per minute) see an improvement from 38 percent to 88 percent in their oral reading fluency. 

In an assessment conducted by an independent partner comprising over 3,500 students in three languages and across five states in India, 40 percent more students who used Read Along saw an improvement of one or more reading levels as compared to students not using the app. 


Through our experience and on the ground partnerships we have also collated some key learnings relevant to anyone trying to leverage technology in the space of improving early age literacy 
  1. Achieving Scale: Integrating technology solution in existing NGO/Government led programs enables impact at scale.
  2. Supporting parents/guardians: A strong orientation program for parents/guardians is critical to enable device access and learning support for children
  3. Supporting educators: Technologies like Read Along can be easily integrated in lesson plans to make reading fun even in low tech classrooms. 

New features and books to improve the reading experience

While we’re both humbled and excited by these results, our work doesn’t stop here. Starting today, Read Along:  
  • Has more than 700 unique books across all languages, with a refreshing new look for the content library 
  • Features improvements that make it easier for multilingual kids to switch languages or get phonics support when they tap a word
We are working on features to aid comprehension and give educators the ability to create student reading groups and track progress. We are also making Read Along more accessible in the landscape mode.

Celebrate the joy of reading by taking part in our Story-A-Thon 

This International Literacy Day, we invite parents to continue to read to their kids -- both with and without Read Along -- and share stories written by their children. Read Along will publish few stories on open source platforms like Global Digital Library and Pratham Storyweaver.

Through our partnership with the Uttar Pradesh Basic Education Department on Mission Prerna and NGOs like CSF, KEF, Pratham, Saajha and more, we have been able to reach students who need support. As India embarks upon the NEP 2020 led FLN mission, we are committed to working with individuals, schools, corporate partners, NGOs and governments to help every child achieve their full potential. 

Posted by Nikita Bharadia, Product Marketing Manager, Education