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Category: India (Page 1 of 7)

India’s Top Court Rules Massive Biometric Identity Database Legal—With Restrictions

That’s the headline of my most recent story, written with a colleague, out yesterday.

It begins:

India’s highest court ruled that the world’s largest biometric identification database doesn’t infringe on citizens’ privacy rights—but needs some new limitations.

The country’s controversial Aadhaar program uses photos, finger and eye scans and has already signed up more than 1 billion people. It has sparked an intense global debate over how far a democracy should be able to go in collecting the personal data of its citizens and how that data can be used, shared and protected.

Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling was a response to multiple challenges to the system.

A five-judge panel ruled in a 4-1 decision that the program is constitutional and helps the poor by streamlining disbursement of welfare benefits. Being in the database, however, shouldn’t be required for using mobile phones, opening bank accounts or for school admissions, according to the 1,448-page document outlining the court’s decision. It had been unclear for some time whether such organizations could compel people to supply Aadhaar numbers.

“It’s a historic judgment,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said. “Everyone must realize, including critics of Aadhaar, that you can’t defy technology or ignore it.”

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SoftBank Leads $1 Billion Investment in Indian Hotel-Booking Startup

That’s the headline on my latest story, out yesterday. It begins:

SoftBank Group Corp. is doubling down on one of its biggest bets in India by leading a $1 billion investment in hotel-booking startup OYO Hotels.

The company, based in Gurgaon, India, has received $800 million in a round led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund, which SoftBank Chief Executive Masayoshi Son is using to back cutting-edge technologies, OYO said Tuesday. U.S. venture-capital firms Sequoia Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners also contributed to the round, and existing investors have pledged a further $200 million.

“We plan to rapidly scale our business,” with a focus on continuing OYO’s expansion into China, said 24-year-old company founder Ritesh Agarwal in a written statement. OYO also operates in Malaysia, Nepal and the U.K.

The new round of funding values the company at $5 billion, including the new funds, according to a person familiar with the matter. That is up from a post-money valuation of roughly $850 million when OYO received $250 million last year in a round led by SoftBank.

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Two Years Ago, India Lacked Fast, Cheap Internet—One Billionaire Changed All That

That’s the headline on my latest story, a page one piece out yesterday and online here. It begins:

MUMBAI—India’s richest man is catapulting hundreds of millions of poor people straight into the mobile internet age.

Mukesh Ambani, head of Reliance Industries, one of India’s largest conglomerates, has shelled out $35 billion of the company’s money to blanket the South Asian nation with its first all-4G network. By offering free calls and data for pennies, the telecom latecomer has upended the industry, setting off a cheap internet tsunami that is opening the market of 1.3 billion people to global tech and retailing titans.

The unknown factor: Can Reliance reap profits itself after unleashing a cutthroat price war? Analysts say the company’s ultimate plan, after connecting the masses, is to use the platform to sell content, financial services and advertising. It could also recoup its massive investment in the years to come by charging for high-speed broadband to consumers’ homes and connections for various businesses, according to a person familiar with the matter.

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Mobile Money Heats Up in India as Google Doubles Down

That’s the headline of my most recent story, which came out yesterday. It begins:

NEW DELHI–Alphabet Inc.’s Google is raising its mobile-payments game in India with new functions and services as global players race to woo the nation’s legions of consumers who are skipping credit cards and transacting on smartphones instead.

A day after Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. said it had invested in the parent company of India’s largest digital-payments firm, called Paytm, Google said it is expanding its mobile money service in the South Asian nation. It is partnering with several local banks to offer consumer loans from within its app in the coming weeks, aiming to assist users seeking cash to cover expenses such as school fees.

Google is also expanding its tie-ups to more online merchants as well as to physical retail shops such as India’s ubiquitous mom and pop stores.

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Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Invests in India Mobile-Payments Firm

That’s the headline of my most recent story, which came out yesterday. It begins:

NEW DELHI—-Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is getting into the mobile-payments business.

The Omaha, Neb., conglomerate said Monday it invested in One97 Communications Ltd., the parent company of Paytm. The Noida, India-based company is India’s largest mobile-payments firm. It makes a popular smartphone app that can be used to pay for everything from movie tickets to auto-rickshaw rides.

Mr. Buffett’s assistant Debbie Bosanek said that Mr. Buffett wasn’t involved in the deal. She didn’t immediately confirm the size of the investment. Berkshire was in talks to invest 20 billion to 25 billion rupees ($285 million to $357 million), according to a person familiar with the matter.

Paytm, which says it has more than 300 million users, saw its usage skyrocket in 2016 when India’s government nullified its largest-denomination notes, a bid to root out tax evasion and corruption that triggered a cash shortage.

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New Delhi Snapshot: Goats in a Passenger Van

The things you see in New Delhi traffic. Never a dull moment 🙂 🐐

Previous Delhi/goat-related goodness:

  • Delhi Snapshot: Goat Eating a Paratha (Sept. 2016)
  • Delhi Snapshot: Family of Four — Plus a Goat — on a Motorbike (June 2018)
  • New Delhi Snapshot: Intriguing Gadget for Washing Dogs

    Putting the “dog” in the Japanese term “chindōgu” (珍道具).

    Spotted at Khan Market here in Delhi. Sadly, I didn’t inquire as to the price.

    Something tells me Ginger would not abide.

    New Delhi Snapshot: Connaught Place, Seen from Above

    Here’s one of New Delhi’s most bustling areas as glimpsed from Parikrama, a rotating restaurant 24 stories high.

    Not a view you get to take in every day.

    India Looks to Curb U.S. Tech Giants’ Power

    That’s the headline of my most recent story, which came out Monday and was in Tuesday’s print Wall Street Journal. 

    It begins:

    Indian policy makers are looking for ways to tamp down American tech behemoths, a shift that could crimp growth potential in one of the biggest remaining open markets for their expansion.

    India wants to slap new rules on Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc. and other firms, using a page from China’s playbook to take control of its citizens’ data and shelter homegrown startups.

    The proposed rules, which have emerged in recent weeks in a series of private, draft government policies, have U.S. tech companies concerned, according to   familiar with the matter. American firms are betting billions on the Indian market because, unlike China’s, it has been relatively open to foreign competitors. That might be about to change.

    “It is unprecedented and it needs to be taken very seriously,” said Vinay Kesari, a Bangalore-based technology lawyer specializing in regulatory matters who has worked with U.S. tech firms. “It could have huge implications.”

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    Somehow I Missed this Bill Gates Quote

    Bill Gates quote

    Here’s a photo of a poster I recently spotted for sale by a sidewalk vendor here in New Delhi’s Connaught Place.

    Yes, it has the billionaire Microsoft founder and now famed philanthropist Bill Gates saying:

    “If you born poor it’s not your mistake, but if you die poor it’s your mistake.”

    Hmm…

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