Unlike the traditional janam kundlis, start-ups seem to have found the blend of ancient astrology and AI/ML. Since the pandemic began, the demand and the supply in the Indian astrology market has seen a notable hike supported by capital investments and the use of algorithms. The growing millennial appetite for clarity has indeed proved the comfortable co-existence of tech and astrological beliefs, but it comes with its own set of security concerns.
Though astrology and tech are at two different ends of the spectrum for most, one thing that has remained common between them since day one is data collection. Astrology is essentially based on personal information, including name, date of birth and residence. Its status among young people is fuelled by Instagram meme accounts and venture capital-backed apps that use a combination of algorithms, AI and ML to provide solutions based on the stars and planetary positions.
Since 1930, when the first horoscope column appeared in Britain’s Sunday Express, astrology has extensively advanced. The column was produced during the stock-market crash when people were lost, afraid and looking for guidance. Fast-forward to 2022 and people are still striving for those answers in the light of the recent pandemic.
Recently, ‘Zodiac Affinity’, a playlist generator based on a user’s Spotify listening habits and their astrological sign, was launched and the reviews on social media platforms say that users seem satisfied with the generated playlists. Moreover, ‘Bumble’ users in the US can now go to the new astrology channel within the conversations screen in Bumble’s Date mode.
Across the world, interest in astrology was already experiencing something of a renaissance. According to Google Trends, searches for ‘birth chart‘ and ‘astrology‘ both hit five-year peaks in 2021, and several astrology businesses took off.
In India, about ten such firms cumulatively raised INR 130 crore in the first few months of 2021, three times the combined amount raised by such start-ups over the previous five years. The Indian spiritual and religious market is estimated to be worth over $40 billion, of which the horoscope space alone is worth $10 billion.
In July 2021, the former CEO of ‘Gaana’, a famous music streaming platform Prashan Agarwal teamed up with a former Nexus venture partner to launch a spiritual wellness platform ‘OMI’. OMI raised an undisclosed amount of funds from Nexus Ventures.
In the same year, ‘AppsForBharat’, an application development company focused on spiritual and devotional needs, raised $4 million in its seed round from Sequoia Capital India and BEENEXT Ventures. Existing investor WEH Ventures also participated in the round.
In 2019, an IIT-Bombay graduate made Taaraka, an astrology service app that has been clocking INR 12 lakh to INR 15 lakh per month and simultaneously growing at 40 per cent. It currently has around 200,000 signups and a monthly average user base of 50,000.
Top leaders in a batch of astrological apps have found a devoted audience over the past year. They each claim to be more personalised than ever due to algorithmic and live readings, along with capital into the ‘mystical services’ space.
Despite the ongoing astro-tech movement, it has been reported over 40 or nearly three-fourths of all companies have not received any funding yet.
Security and privacy concerns
In March 2021, Avast and VPNCheck released a list of 134 fraudulent apps with an estimated 500 million downloads available on AppStore. Several astrology applications, including ‘Path’, ‘Nebula’ and ‘Life Palmistry’, were a part of the list that raises questions about security and privacy concerns for the users.
Founded in 2008, AstroSage ‘Kundli’ requires the user’s current residence. While these are considered ‘entertainment’ apps by the iOS App Store and Google Play, the information they require is quite personal and real.
The privacy risks here don’t just concern those who use them. For instance, astrology frequently involves compatibility assessments requiring information about family, friends and partners. The privacy policies of these applications claim that sensitive information is ‘anonymised’ and therefore can’t be traced back to an individual. However, that’s not necessarily true in practice.
Superstition or science?
Psychologist Graham Tyson revealed in his 1982 study that ‘people who consult astrologers’ did so due to stressors in their lives—particularly stress “linked to the individual’s social roles and his or her relationships”, Tyson explained. “Under high-stress conditions, the individual is prepared to use astrology as a coping device even under low-stress conditions he does not believe in.”
For now, with social media serving memes about Mercury in retrograde and modern life offering little spiritual support, astrology’s renaissance seems like it is here to stay.