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Journalism Tech

Facebook’s WhatsApp Battles Coronavirus Misinformation

whatsapp forwarding

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

Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp is limiting users’ ability to forward content on its encrypted messaging platform, as misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic proliferates on the service in its biggest market, India.

In one of the biggest changes WhatsApp has made to a core feature, the company said Tuesday that its more than two billion users globally can now send along frequently forwarded messages they receive to only one person or group at a time, down from five.

In recent weeks the company has “seen a significant increase in the amount of forwarding which users have told us can feel overwhelming and can contribute to the spread of misinformation,” the company said.

WhatsApp is also testing a new feature that enables users to click an icon next to frequently forwarded messages—those forwarded at least five times—to search the web for their contents and verify them before sending the message to others, a WhatsApp spokeswoman said.

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Journalism Tech

Hotel Giant Oyo Looks to Rewrite Contracts That Fueled Its Rise

That’s the headline on my most recent story, written with my colleague Phred Dvorak, out Thursday. It begins:

Oyo Hotels and Homes, which built itself into the world’s second-biggest hotel chain by total number of rooms, is phasing out an important tool that fueled its rise.

The India-based company and a key investment by SoftBank Group Corp.’s $100 billion tech fund grew quickly in part by offering independent hotel owners the unusual perk of guaranteed revenues if their hotels joined Oyo’s chain. Many hotels signed up, attracted by the guarantees—sometimes at more than 100% of the previous year’s revenue, according to former Oyo employees. However, some hotels didn’t produce sufficient bookings, leaving Oyo on the hook to meet those revenue levels and resulting in disputes with some hotel owners.

Now, Oyo is ending the practice of awarding those guarantees around the world and instead is rolling out new contracts for its hoteliers without them, Chief Executive Ritesh Agarwal told The Wall Street Journal. The new contracts also raise fees charged to the hotels, according to some hotels and former Oyo employees.

Mr. Agarwal said the company is taking the step largely because the guarantees have served their purpose of convincing hotels that Oyo could boost their occupancy and revenue. But he said Oyo had some problems with the guarantees, particularly in its biggest market of China, and that around 15% of Oyo’s rooms still had them as of the beginning of the year.

“In reflection, we are able to see that minimum guarantees work, but only when they are handled with great care,” he said. Oyo’s share of the money guests pay for their rooms is on average more than 15%, after any losses on the guarantees are subtracted, he said.

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India Journalism Tech

Amazon’s Bezos Pledges New $1 Billion India Investment Amid Pushback

That’s the headline on my newest story, with my colleague Krishna Pokharel, out Wednesday. It begins:

NEW DELHI— Amazon.com Inc. Chief Executive Jeff Bezos pledged to invest an additional $1 billion in the company’s Indian operations, part of a charm offensive in a promising but challenging market.

Mr. Bezos told a gathering of local Amazon sellers that the intent is to help more small businesses start selling on the company’s marketplace. The new funds will supplement the $5 billion that Amazon has said it is spending to build out its Indian business, a spokeswoman said.

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India Journalism Tech

India Orders WhatsApp, Google to Save Data on Mob Attack

That’s the headline on my newest story, with my colleague Krishna Pokharel, out Tuesday. It begins:

NEW DELHI — An Indian court ordered Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp and Alphabet Inc.’s Google to preserve data connected to an attack on a university campus earlier this month in the latest attempt by authorities in the country to wrangle more control over the messaging and search giants.

According to an attorney involved in the case, the Delhi High Court said Tuesday that the companies, local police and university authorities must try to save messages, photos and videos connected to the Jan. 5 attack, when several dozen people stormed the campus of New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, injuring 32 students and two faculty members.

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India Journalism Tech

India Orders Antitrust Probe of Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart

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

NEW DELHI–India’s antitrust watchdog ordered a probe into whether Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc.’s Flipkart have violated competition laws, New Delhi’s latest move to try to rein in American tech giants that dominate its burgeoning internet economy.

The investigation launched by the Competition Commission of India Monday said it would focus on allegations that the U.S. titans promote “preferred sellers” of goods on their platforms, which may have hurt smaller rivals.

“It has been alleged that most of these preferred sellers are affiliated with or controlled by Flipkart or Amazon, either directly or indirectly,” the order said.