Recent Stories Round-Up: Telcos in Myanmar; InMobi, Snapdeal, Facebook in India

It’s been a busy week or so.

Here are links to some recent stories I’ve worked on with colleagues, both here in Singapore and in India.

Myanmar Tests Foreign Telecom Entrants (March 10):

YANGON, Myanmar—When Myanmar’s first foreign telecommunications companies, Qatar’s Ooredoo QSC and Norway’s Telenor ASA, arrived last year, customers lined up for blocks to buy their inexpensive services, exhausting the supply of SIM cards within weeks and cheering their executives.

Six months later, state-owned Myanmar Posts & Telecommunications, which had for decades monopolized the market despite its generally outdated services, has added more new customers than its challengers combined.

The scenario underscores state-owned companies’ dominance here and the conflicting forces that foreign companies face as the military government tries to modernize Myanmar’s long-isolated economy and lure fresh investment while also moving to protect its interests. As Myanmar prepares to open up other sectors, including energy, real estate, tourism and manufacturing, the telecom industry is being watched as a test case.

Google in Early Talks to Buy Indian Mobile Ad Firm InMobi (March 11):

BANGALORE, India—Google Inc. is in early stages of negotiations to buy Indian mobile ad firm InMobi, a person familiar with the matter said, as the U.S. company looks to strengthen its presence in the mobile advertising space.

“Google has expressed interest and has reached out” but there is no certainty on whether the Indian company would sell itself, this person said.

Google declined to comment.

The Economic Times first reported the news.

InMobi, one of the biggest ad networks in India, offers advertising services on mobile websites based on the profiles and behaviors of users of those sites. The company has offices across 17 countries with more than 900 employees.

Snapdeal Considers Acquisitions in India, CEO Says (March 17):

NEW DELHI—Online marketplace Snapdeal.com is considering acquiring firms in India as it seeks to expand its presence in the country’s fast-growing e-commerce market, the company’s chief executive said.

Kunal Bahl said in an interview Monday that possible acquisitions would be focused on allowing Snapdeal to expand from its current mass-retail model into more specialized niches such as luxury goods.

“We’ve got to make sure that we are giving consumers very specialized experiences” in terms of the types of products they buy online, Mr. Bahl said. He cited as an example Snapdeal’s acquisition last month of Exclusively.com, an Indian luxury fashion website. The terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

India Is Requesting More Data About Facebook Users (March 17):

Indian authorities are increasingly asking for data on Facebook users, and Facebook is increasingly blocking content in the country.

That’s according to the U.S. social media company’s most recent report on government requests, which showed that from July to December 2014, authorities made 5,473 requests for data on users’ accounts, up from 4559 requests in the first six months of that year. Facebook provided “some data” in response to nearly 45% of those requests, the company said.

Facebook also blocked 5,832 pieces of content in the second half of 2014. That’s up from 4,960 pieces blocked from January to June last year.

I’ll continue to post links to my stories here on Newley.com, as always. But just a reminder that you can also sign up for my weekly newsletter in case you’d like my clips — and other fun stuff — delivered to your inbox, as well.

By Me Earlier This Week: Interview with FireEye CEO David DeWalt

The story begins:

Network security company FireEye Inc. is seeing strong demand for its services amid a series of high-profile cyberattacks, and would like to grow more quickly, but is inhibited by a need to satisfy investors, the company’s chief executive said.

“Once you’re public, Wall Street wants to see earnings,” David DeWalt told The Wall Street Journal in an interview Tuesday. The Milpitas, Calif.-based company, which has worked with Sony Pictures and health insurer Anthem Inc. following recent breaches, was founded as NetForts Inc. and went public in 2013.

The company has yet to post a profit, and earlier this month reported a fourth-quarter loss of $105.7 million, despite higher revenue and billings, compared with $2.5 million a year earlier. The company said it has increased spending to expand its customer base. Revenues during the period jumped to $143 million from $57.3 million a year earlier.

“If I had my way, I probably would continue to grow the company much faster than I would produce earnings,” he said. But the company must stay “balanced for cash flow and earnings, reporting and returning to shareholders bottom-line capabilities, as well as top.”

“I liken the analogy to a Maserati that’s got the gas pedal to the floor but it’s in neutral. We’re looking for the gear,” Mr. DeWalt said.

I also wrote a piece re-capping what DeWalt had to say about recent trends in cyber-security:

Nations are fighting for superiority

DeWalt said that “this great domain called cyberspace has created an enormous potential conflict.”

“If you study mankind, it’s had conflict over every new domain that’s been discovered, whether it’s land or ocean or air or space. Whenever there’s a new land discovered we’ve fought wars over it. We’re in a major conflict. It’s been brewing. The gloves have been off a bit the last year or two. We’ve been on the front lines watching it, and it’s probably one of the most interesting times of my career.”

Governments’ goals vary

Each nation has its own reasons for “offensive” cyber activity, DeWalt said.

“It’s well documented that China’s focus has largely been on the enrichment of its own state-owned enterprises. Do we ever watch crime occur for dollars? I’ve never seen a single case of a nation-state attack in China for money. They’re mostly after innovation information. Their modus operandi is to level the playing field through cyber offense.

The U.S. has been very active in monitoring, maybe not for enrichment of commercial operations that are government-owned but for its own geopolitical interests.

Russia has been super money oriented. Do we ever see them sabotage something? Never.

North Korea? Gloves off immediately, try to destroy South Korea as quick as they can. It’s not about money or espionage, just about, kill your neighbor.”

Expect more Sony-like “wipe and release” hacks

The breach of Sony last year marked the “elevation” of cybercrime into “sabotage,” DeWalt said.

“We’ve watched over the last two or three years significant occurrences of just outright destruction. Attempts to really hurt companies or countries with Internet weaponry. You don’t have to wipe out the company. All you have to do is release the information about the company. I think you’ll see a lot more of these wipe and release models, or maybe even just the release model, forget the wipe.”

The Anthem hack shows increasing sophistication

The take-home from the recently announced attack on U.S. health insurer Anthem: cybercriminals are getting seriously sophisticated.

“The layers of cybercrime are reaching new levels. What once was high volume, low dollar amount credit card stealing evolved into the stealing of insider information to gain an advantage in capital markets. And now fraudulent healthcare claims.”

My Interview with Minsi Chung at Covering Business

My former Columbia classmate Minsi Chung interviewed me for Covering Business, the Journalism School’s financial reporting-focused site.

You can find the interview here.

We talked about getting exclusives in Southeast Asia, discussed some of my recent stories, touched on wider tech trends and more.

Anasuya’s New Documentary on Myanmar’s Rohingya People

I’m proud to share a documentary produced by Anasuya Sanyal — aka my amazing wife — that recently aired on Singapore’s Channel NewsAsia.

It’s about the struggles faced by the Rohingya people of Myanmar and a controversial government program designed to offer them citizenship.

The show is called “Between Two Worlds,” and is embedded above and on the Channel NewsAsia site here.

What Does a News Homepage Mean in 2015?

Interesting stuff from Melody Joy Kramer and others: What could a home page mean for a news site in 2015?

Last September, I went to Chicago for a conference. On the third day of the conference, I slipped away to my friend Max’s apartment on a mission. The mission was to gather together a lot of very smart people who don’t work in news — and ask them to design a new news homepage.

By news homepage, I mean any way for a user to first encounter content. A push notification could very well be the new news homepage. (Related: Ways to think about push notifications.) An app is a news homepage. An article or a newsletter is a news homepage. If you listen to the news, Overcast or Soundcloud or the iTunes store may be your homepage. Homepage, to me, is simply a shortened version of any of these things. You can substitute any of the words I mentioned for homepage below.

Click through for their 64 ideas.

By Me Today: Facebook Denies ‘Lizard Squad’ Hacking Claim

The story begins:

Facebook Inc. on Tuesday denied being the victim of a hacking attack and said its site and photo-sharing app Instagram had suffered an outage after it introduced a configuration change.

The disruption “was not the result of a third party attack but instead occurred after we introduced a change that affected our configuration systems,” a Facebook spokeswoman told The Wall Street Journal. “We moved quickly to fix the problem, and both services are back to 100% for everyone.”

By Me Yesterday: The World Leader in Mobile Facebook Access? Indonesia

My WSJ Digits post begins:

Indonesia leads the world in terms of the percentage of its Facebook users who access the social network on their mobile devices.

That’s according to research firm eMarketer, which said Thursday that some 92.4% of Facebook users in the country — 62.6 million people — tap into the social network via their phones at least once a month. That’s up from 88.1% last year and 77.7% in 2013.

Click through for more.

By Me Yesterday: Twitter Buys India-Based Startup ZipDial to Tap Emerging Markets

Our main story at WSJ.com begins:

Twitter Inc. agreed to buy India-based mobile marketing startup ZipDial for an undisclosed sum in its first acquisition in Asia, as it seeks to tap more offline users in fast-growing emerging markets.

Countries like India, Indonesia and Brazil are key to Twitter as it tries to attract new users and advertising dollars, analysts say. Emerging markets are increasingly becoming an important part of Twitter’s growth strategy as it peaks in developed markets such as the U.S. and the U.K. In the three months ended September, Twitter reached 284 million monthly active users, about 77% of whom came from outside the U.S.

Bangalore-based ZipDial is known for its “missed call” marketing service, which allows consumers to dial a number for a company and hang up before connecting. The company in turn sends them free text messages containing advertisements and other content, like sports scores, without users incurring a charge.

A colleague and I also wrote this primer on ZipDial:

Twitter said Tuesday it is paying an undisclosed sum to acquire ZipDial, a Bangalore, India-based startup known for its success at “missed call” marketing.

Wait, what’s a missed call?

In India, many cost-conscious consumers use missed calls — they dial a number, let it ring, then hang up before connecting — to send a message, like “I’m running late,” to friends and family. A missed call is free, since callers are only charged when the other party answers.

What does ZipDial do?

ZipDial lets companies take advantage of this practice. The startup, which was founded in 2010 and has 56 employees, provides services that allow brands to advertise a number for “missed calls.”

For example, in one campaign for Colgate toothpaste, users could give a missed call to a special number shown on advertising banners in Mumbai, then receive a text message. Consumers would respond to that with their addresses, and then are sent a free sample of toothpaste.

ZipDial’s other clients have included the likes of Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Walt Disney and more.

Click through for more.

My Q&A with Dan Neary, Facebook’s Asia-Pacific VP

It begins:

Dan Neary oversees Facebook Inc. ’s advertising operations across Asia-Pacific, a fast-growing region that is home to some of the social network’s biggest markets.

Nearly all of Facebook’s revenue—some $3.2 billion as of the third quarter—comes from fees companies pay to show users ads.

As the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company continues to add to its 1.35 billion monthly active users globally, many are coming from emerging Asian countries such as Indonesia and India.

Moreover, such users are accessing the platform not just on PCs, but increasingly on mobile devices, presenting new challenges and opportunities for Facebook and advertisers.

Mr. Neary, a 49-year-old Chicago native who began his career at Kellogg Co. before holding senior positions at Skype and eBay Inc., is tasked with ensuring the company continues to profit in an ever-changing technological environment.

In a recent interview at Facebook’s offices in Singapore, Mr. Neary discussed the shift to mobile, as well as what Facebook’s photo-sharing service Instagram and messaging app WhatsApp can contribute to the company.

Mr. Neary was cautious in addressing Founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg ’s October visit to China and possible expansion there, saying only that having access to the country’s 1.3 billion people is an important part of Facebook’s future growth plan.

Click through to read the whole thing.

You may recall that some of my similar interviews in the past — part of our “Boss Talk” series — include chats with BlackBerry Chief Executive John Chen; Twitter’s vice president of Asia Pacific, the Americas and emerging markets, Shailesh Rao; and Evernote Chief Executive Phil Libin.

By Me and a Colleague: BlackBerry Releases High-End ‘Classic’ Smartphone in India

A story I wrote with colleague Jai Krishna:

Samsung this week said it would unveil in India a sub-$100 smartphone based on its own operating system, its latest attempt to turn around its declining sales.

That isn’t stopping rival BlackBerry from launching a high-end smartphone in the country, with the Canadian company hoping corporate executives and professionals there will pay a premium for its devices.

BlackBerry on Thursday said it is releasing its new Classic phone for 31,990 rupees ($518), slightly higher than the $449 it costs in the U.S., where it went on sale in December.

The Classic, which comes with a physical QWERTY keyboard and trackpad, reflects the company’s plan to appeal to corporate customers in search of secure services, Sunil Lalvani, managing director at BlackBerry India, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview.

Click through to read the rest.