By Me Today: Uber’s Controversial ‘Surge Pricing’ in Sydney

Earlier today, I wrote:

Uber acted quickly Monday in an attempt to tamp down the latest controversy to hit the company, saying it is offering passengers free rides amid an unfolding siege at a Sydney café after complaints that rates had soared to exorbitant levels.

The reversal came just a short time after the ride-sharing app drew criticism on Twitter for saying it was raising prices to attract more drivers to the city’s central business district, where at least one gunman had taken hostages in a cafe and placed an Islamic flag in the window, sparking concerns a terrorist attack was under way.

The fare uptick was the result of an Uber policy called surge pricing, in which an algorithm charges customers more money during times of high demand — as was apparently the case in Sydney. Some users reported that the minimum fare had skyrocketed to $100 Australian dollars ($82) for a ride.

Click through for more. And for updates about the situation in Sydney, see our live blog.

Meanwhile, I neglected to mention that I recently wrote about Uber’s regulatory issues in Southeast Asia.

Frontline’s ‘United States of Secrets’

If you haven’t watched it yet, clear a few hours from your schedule at some point and watch the two-part Frontline special on the NSA and Edward Snowden that ran in May.

It’s called “United States of Secrets.”

Even if, like me, you think you understand the history of the NSA and the general technical aspects of what Snowden leaked, you may be surprised. Very much worth a watch.

Part 1 is stream-able via the PBS site here.

Part 2 is stream-able here.

My Story on Lazada and E-Commerce in Indonesia

2014 11 23 indoecomm

My newest story focuses on a rapidly expanding startup, Lazada Indonsesia, that’s aiming to be the country’s Amazon.com. The piece also looks at the promise of e-commerce in the populous country.

It begins:

JAKARTA—Executives at Lazada Indonesia, a fast-growing e-commerce startup aiming to be the Amazon.com of Southeast Asia, faced a couple of unexpected challenges when they opened a cavernous new warehouse outside Jakarta last year.

The executives, who hail from Europe, were forced to build a special, refrigerated room after realizing that some perfumes they stocked were evaporating in Indonesia’s tropical heat.

Then there was something even more surprising: Staffers were forced to hold a special ceremony to rid the warehouse of what the staff feared was a ghostly presence lurking in the facility.

Challenges are par for the course at Lazada Indonesia, founded in Jakarta in 2012 and partly funded by Rocket Internet AG , a Berlin-based tech incubator that went public last month. Indonesia’s e-commerce market is still small, and Lazada had to build a lot of what it needed from scratch. But the company is plowing ahead so it can get a head start in the country over international giants like Amazon.com Inc., Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and eBay Inc.

Meanwhile, I wrote an accompanying post for our Digits blog about some of the local competitors Lazada is battling in Indonesia:

E-commerce startup Lazada is moving quickly in its quest to become Southeast Asia’s Amazon.com.

But as the company expands its operations in populous Indonesia — which analysts say is on track to be the region’s most lucrative market — it’s battling not just big multinational players like the Seattle-based behemoth. It’s also competing with some popular homegrown sites, too.

Lazada Indonesia, a business-to-consumer site founded in 2012 that offers everything from Xiaomi smartphones to bedding and badminton rackets, sees more visitors than the likes of Amazon, Alibaba and eBay in Indonesia, according to data from research firm SimilarWeb.

But several local shopping sites, little known outside Indonesia, are also hugely popular in the country of more than 240 million people.

At the top of this post: An image I snapped inside Lazada’s warehouse outside Jakarta.

Animated GIF of the Rosetta Mission

Worth pondering: The successful, seemingly-too-crazy-to-be-true Rosetta mission to land a spacecraft on a comet comprised much more than just the recent touchdown.

Of course, it took years of planning to execute.

Check out this really cool animated GIF to see how everything came together:

Fantastic. Awe-inspiring.

Our Exclusive Friday: Twitter’s Opening a Hong Kong Office

As I wrote here:

Twitter Inc. plans to open an office in Hong Kong early next year to serve greater China and tap advertising revenues from Chinese companies that are quickly expanding, an executive said.

Shailesh Rao, Twitter’s vice president for Asia Pacific, the Americas and emerging markets, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview that the office will mainly house sales staff, though he declined to say how many. The office is set to open in the first quarter of 2015.

“The real main focus of the office will be sales,” Mr. Rao said. “Building sales capability to work with agencies and advertisers domestically in Hong Kong and Taiwan and those Chinese advertisers looking to go global.”

Twitter has been blocked in China since 2009 due to government concerns it could be used to organize protests. Asked if plans for the Hong Kong office signaled Twitter’s eagerness to enter China should the government lift its restriction, Mr. Rao said, “We would love to have Twitter” reach people “everywhere in the world including China.” But, he added, “Unfortunately, we can’t. That’s not our choice. We don’t control that decision.”

Click through to read the whole thing.

The story was picked up by financial newswires, various news organizations and several tech blogs.

Trailer for ‘Chappie,’ New Film by ‘District 9′ Director

File under: Newley.com posts about sci-fi thrillers

Here’s the trailer for “Short Circuit,”Chappie,” a movie due out in March by “District 9″ director Neill Blomkamp.

Yes, it features Hugh Jackman with what appears to be a mullet haircut.

Yes, the film also features the members of Die Antwoord.

Consumers in India Can Now Pre-Book Their Whoppers — on Ebay

That’s the subject of a story I wrote today:

Indian consumers have in recent months shown a penchant for ordering goods like smartphones in short-lived, online sales called “flash sales.” Now Burger King is trying to get them to pre-order its sandwiches — on eBay.

In an apparent attempt to tap into the popularity of flash sales — Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi says it has sold more than 500,000 of its low-cost handsets in India using such methods since July — Burger King is allowing customers to pre-book its Whoppers via online marketplace eBay.

The world’s second-largest burger chain after McDonald’s is set to open this month for the first time in the populous country. Cognizant of the religious practices of Hindus and Muslims who comprise the majority of the country’s population, Miami-based Burger King late last week said it would offer chicken, mutton and vegetable versions of its signature Whopper sandwich.

Through Wednesday, customers can pay a promotional price of 128 rupees ($2.08) with a credit card, debit card, or online bank transfer for a Whopper. (It’s unclear how much of a discount the price represents.) Buyers then receive a voucher via courier that they can redeem at a new Burger King shop in New Delhi’s Select City Walk Mall when it opens on Sunday. Those who order the sandwich also receive a T-shirt.

Apart from the discounted price and the shirt, however, it is unclear why consumers would buy the sandwiches online ahead of time, when they could presumably be bought quickly in the restaurant.

Click through to read the rest.

Embedded above and online here: A video in which I talk about Burger King’s campaign and flash sales in India.

Jim Stewart on Tim Cook’s Coming Out

The New York Times‘s Jim Stewart on Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook, who said in a BloombergBusinessweek essay published last week that he’s gay:

Tim Cook’s declaration on Thursday that “I’m proud to be gay” made him the first publicly gay chief executive of a Fortune 500 company. But Mr. Cook isn’t just any chief executive. And Apple isn’t any company. It’s one of the most profitable companies in the Fortune 500 and ranks No. 1 on the magazine’s annual ranking of the most admired companies.

As Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, put it, “He’s chief executive of the Fortune One. Something has consequences because of who does it, and this is Tim Cook and Apple. This will resonate powerfully.”

Trevor Burgess, the openly gay chief executive of C1 Financial in Florida, and one of the first publicly gay chief executives of a public company, said Tim Cook used “the metaphor of laying a brick on the ‘path towards justice.’ ” But, “This is more like 600 million bricks,” Mr. Burgess said. “He has the most influential voice in global business.”

Worth a read.