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India Journalism Tech

Me on The Journal Podcast Talking U.S. Tech Giants and India

Quick heads up: I was on the latest edition of The WSJ‘s “The Journal” podcast talking about my recent story on U.S. tech giants facing pushback here in India.

I was happy to join in as I’ve long admired the show, and this was my first appearance.

You can listen online here or in your favorite podcast app. Just search for “The Journal.” The episode was out yesterday, December 10, and is called “India Rewrites the Rules for Big Tech.”

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India Journalism Tech

Silicon Valley-Backed App Lenders Use Phone Data to Hassle Borrowers

2019 12 03 wsj front page

That’s the headline on my most recent story, with my colleague Justin Scheck.

It was on the front page of Friday’s WSJ.

It begins:

NEW DELHI–Silicon Valley venture capital is funding a wave of fintech startups in India that use data from borrowers’ cellphones to collect on debts in ways that are illegal in both India and the U.S.

The startups are providing much-needed credit in India, where consumer lending has been limited by a lack of credit scores and by banks that are reluctant to make personal loans. While the newcomers’ tactics are illegal, they are ignored by Indian regulators who want to encourage lending, according to analysts and company insiders. The startups also use personal data to make lending decisions.

It is the latest example of Silicon Valley pushing legal and ethical boundaries in a global race for customers and profit. Lured by the promise of massive populations of people who are just beginning to transact online, tech companies are moving into banking in emerging markets, where cultural norms are complex, regulations are often weak, and many consumers lack credit histories or even official identification.

2019 12 03Silicon Valley Backed Fintech Apps Use Phone Data to Harass Borrowers

I also discussed the story on our What’s News podcast. You can listen on Spotify here or search your favorite podcast app for WSJ What’s News.

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India Journalism Tech

India’s Paytm Secures $1 Billion Investment From SoftBank, Ant Financial

2019 11 26paytm

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

NEW DELHI—The parent company of popular Indian mobile-payments startup Paytm said it has secured $1 billion in fresh funds from Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. and China’s Ant Financial Services Group, giving it more firepower in a fast-growing but crowded market.

The investment values the parent company, One97 Communications Ltd., at $16 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter, making it one of Asia’s most valuable startups.

The Noida, India-based company makes a smartphone app that allows users to pay for goods and services such as groceries, auto rickshaw rides, movie tickets and electricity bills. It also has an e-commerce platform and offers financial products such as mutual funds and savings accounts.

The investment is a “reaffirmation of our commitment” to provide “new age financial services,” founder and Chief Executive Vijay Shekhar Sharma said in a statement Monday in India.

Click through to read the rest.

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India Journalism Tech

Cash May Be King in India, but Google Is Prince of Mobile Payments

2019 09 19Google Pay

That’s the headline on my latest story, out today.

It begins:

NEW DELHI–The leading player in the battle for mobile payments in India isn’t either of China’s pioneers, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. or Tencent Holdings Ltd. It isn’t Apple Inc., Visa Inc. or even PayPal Holdings Inc. It’s Google.

The Alphabet Inc. unit has for years tried to diversify its revenues beyond advertising by pushing into new fields like cloud computing and hardware. While its profits remain healthy, it needs new ways to make money as the specter of regulation looms at home and around the globe. Its booming new business in the world’s largest untapped digital market could be the engine of expansion that it has been looking for.

In India today, the company has one of its fastest-growing hits ever with Google Pay, a two-year-old app that millions of consumers are using to spend and transfer tens of billions of dollars.

Resembling a chat app and available in local languages, Google Pay was the most downloaded financial technology app world-wide last year, according to SensorTower, a research and marketing firm for the app industry.

Click through to read the rest.

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Journalism Tech

Amazon Holds Talks With Indonesian Ride-Hailing Startup Gojek

2019 08 29amazon gojek

That’s the headline on my newest story, out yesterday, a scoop with my colleagues Julie Steinberg and Jon Emont.

It begins:

Amazon.com Inc. and Indonesian ride-hailing startup Gojek Group have held preliminary talks on a partnership, according to people familiar with the matter, which could expand the online retail giant’s services into a populous new market.

The companies have discussed an arrangement by which Amazon would make a sizable investment in Gojek and tap into the Jakarta-based company’s delivery infrastructure in Indonesia, one of the people said.

An Amazon spokeswoman said the company doesn’t comment on “rumors and speculation.” A spokesman for Gojek didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

There is no guarantee a deal will result.

Click through to read the rest.

The story was followed by Bloomberg and Reuters.

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Journalism Tech

AI Startup Boom Raises Questions of Exaggerated Tech Savvy

engineerai

That’s the headline on my most recent story, which I wrote with my colleague Parmy Olson. It went online yesterday and is in today’s print WSJ.

It begins:

Startup Engineer.ai says it uses artificial-intelligence technology to largely automate the development of mobile apps, but several current and former employees say the company exaggerates its AI capabilities to attract customers and investors.

The competing claims reflect a growing challenge in the tech world of assessing a company’s proficiency in artificial intelligence, which refers to technologies that can allow computers to learn or perform tasks typically requiring human decision makers—in many cases helping companies save money or better target consumers.

Because AI technology is complex and loosely defined, nonexperts can find it hard to discern when it is being deployed. Still, money is flowing into the sector, and many startups can say they use AI as a way to lure investments or corporate clients even when such claims are difficult to vet.

Click through to read the rest.

The story was picked up by popular tech news outlets The Information, The Verge, and The Next Web, and on news forums such as Slashdot and Hacker News

Parmy and I were also on the WSJ Tech News podcast, in which we discussed the story with host
Kim Gittleson. You can listen online here, or in your favorite podcast app.

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India Journalism Tech

The Hottest Phones for the Next Billion Users Aren’t Smartphones

smart feature phones

That’s the headline on my most recent story, which came out Tuesday.

It begins:

NEW DELHI—The hottest phones for the world’s next billion users aren’t made by smartphone leaders Samsung Electronics Co. or Apple Inc. In fact, they aren’t even smartphones.

Millions of first-time internet consumers from the Ivory Coast to India and Indonesia are connecting to the web on a new breed of device that only costs about $25. The gadgets look like the inexpensive Nokia Corp. phones that were big about two decades ago. But these hybrid phones, fueled by inexpensive mobile data, provide some basic apps and internet access in addition to calling and texting.

Smart feature phones, as they are known, are one of the mobile-phone industry’s fastest-growing and least-known segments, providing a simple way for some of the world’s poorest people to enter the internet economy.

While global smartphone sales began sliding last year as markets became saturated, smart feature phone shipments tripled to around 75 million from 2017, according to research firm Counterpoint. Some 84 million are likely to be shipped this year.

Click through to read the rest.

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India Journalism Tech

Netflix and Amazon Trail a Local Video Rival in India That’s Now Disney-Owned

2019 06 06 hotstar netflix amazon

That’s the headline on my most recent story, out Tuesday.

It begins:

NEW DELHI—To win in India, home to many of the world’s next billion internet users, Netflix Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. are copying the tactics of a video-streaming service built for the local market.

Hotstar dominates the Indian market. Launched four years ago by media conglomerate Star India as a mobile-first streaming platform for watching cricket, movies and TV, it now has 300 million monthly users—roughly 10% more than YouTube, India’s second-biggest video content platform. While only three million users pay for access, that is still more than Amazon has, and more than twice as many as Netflix. Walt Disney Co. now owns Hotstar.

Netflix and Amazon, shut out of China and facing stiff competition in the maturing U.S. market, are adopting the strategies that fueled Hotstar’s success—low prices that the average Indian viewer can afford and loads of local content in multiple Indian languages.

Netflix is churning out Indian-language dramas, love stories and thrillers and slashing its monthly rates. Amazon has signed up local stand-up comedians and backed a “Sex and the City” clone about a group of women in Mumbai that is broadcast in three Indian languages.

Click through to read the rest.

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India Journalism Tech

Modi’s Re-Election Means More Scrutiny for U.S. Tech Giants

2019 05 26modi tech

That’s the headline on my newest story, out Friday. It begins:

NEW DELHI – U.S. technology firms recently facing pushback in India, the world’s biggest untapped digital economy, can expect more scrutiny following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s resounding re-election, according to executives and analysts.

They expect Mr. Modi’s government to continue tightening restrictions on American titans such as Amazon.com Inc., Walmart Inc. and Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp.

U.S. firms have been pouring billions of dollars into the country of 1.3 billion people in part because, unlike China, India has provided a level playing field for foreign firms at a time when hundreds of millions of people are getting online thanks to cheaper mobile data and smartphones.

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India Journalism Tech

SoftBank Doubles Down on Indian Grocery Venture

softbank_grofers

That’s the headline on my newest story, an exclusive out yesterday. It begins:

NEW DELHI–SoftBank Group Corp. is doubling down on its bet on an Indian grocery-delivery startup, in the global investor’s latest foray in the world’s largest untapped tech market.

Grofers India Pvt. said Wednesday that it received just over $200 million in a funding round led by the Vision Fund, which SoftBank Chief Executive Masayoshi Son is using to invest in cutting-edge technologies. Tiger Global Management and Sequoia Capital, two other prominent tech investors, also participated in the round, said Grofers, which is based in Gurgaon, India.

Click through to read the rest.