Amazon, Facebook and Walmart Need to Watch Their Backs in India

2019 02 01 india gate

That’s the headline on a story I wrote Tuesday with my colleague Rajesh Roy. It begins:

Hoping to match China’s success at protecting and promoting homegrown tech titans, India has plans to continue tightening restrictions on Amazon.com Inc., Walmart Inc., Facebook Inc. and other foreign firms that have come to dominate the country’s budding internet economy.

As hundreds of millions of people get online for the first time, and with national elections due in the coming months, Indian policy makers are upping the pressure on American rivals and changing policies to favor domestic players.

The secretary of India’s Telecommunications Department, Aruna Sundararajan, last week told a gathering of Indian startups in a closed-door meeting in the tech hub of Bangalore that the government will introduce a “national champion” policy “very soon” to encourage the rise of Indian companies, according to a person familiar with the matter. She said Indian policy makers had noted the success of China’s internet giants, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. , the person said. She didn’t immediately respond to a request for more details on the program or its timing.

Asked about the comments, she said in a WhatsApp message that the idea is to promote Indian companies “to become global champions."

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Uber Wants You to Catch the Bus or Train—if They Can Drive You There

2019 02 01 uber transport

That’s the headline on a story out Wed. that I wrote with my colleague Mike Cherney. It begins:

Uber Technologies Inc., fresh from disrupting the taxi industry and leaping into food delivery, is devising a new business strategy ahead of its anticipated public offering: ferrying passengers to and from mass-transit systems.

Last year, the ride-sharing giant created an internal team with a focus on partnerships with local transit officials, a shift for a company that previously had run-ins with regulators as it expanded around the globe. The move comes as Uber seeks to evolve from being primarily a taxi-like service to a wider transportation platform, offering options like electric bikes and scooters—and eventually public bus and train tickets.

The approach could generate significant revenue for Uber, if the company can convince customers to take more Uber trips to and from bus stops or train stations. Finding new revenue is crucial for the cash-burning giant, which has said it doesn’t expect to be profitable for at least three years and faces increasing competition as it plans for an IPO this year.

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NN 162: Netflix Price Hike; Massive Theorbos; Dancing Dogs

2019 01 24tree

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

🎥 1) Netflix Raises Prices on All of Its Subscription Plans [WSJ]

“Netflix, which last raised its prices in late 2017, will increase the cost of its most popular plan by 18% to $13 a month, from $11. That plan allows users to stream on two screens at the same time. The most basic plan, which allows a single stream, will go up one dollar, or 13%, to $9 a month. Raising prices will help Netflix swallow higher content costs as the streaming TV wars intensify.”

💔 2) Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and wife MacKenzie are getting a divorce [Recode]

“The split between the tech titan and his wife, a novelist, could have an impact on Amazon’s ownership. Jeff Bezos owned 16.3 percent of Amazon’s shares as of February 2018, but it’s possible half of that stake could go to MacKenzie in a split.”

🌊 3) Antarctica is losing ice 6 times faster than in 1980s [Axios]

“Antarctica is shedding ice at an increasingly rapid rate, potentially imperiling coastlines around the world as sea levels increase in response, a new study finds.”

🤸 4) For Katelyn Ohashi, Viral Gymnastics Joy Was No Act [NY Times]

“At a college meet over the weekend, Katelyn Ohashi of U.C.L.A. delivered a brilliant technical floor routine, with nary a step on her landings. But a YouTube video of that performance has attracted millions of viewers not because of her skill level but rather the unabashed fun she seems to be having while doing it.”

Watch her routine on YouTube here.

🔇 5) Project Alias is a Weird ‘Parasite’ That Gloms Onto Alexa to Increase Privacy [Gizmodo]

“Project Alias’s solution is to play static into the smart speaker’s mic all the time, only stopping when you give Alias a command that it has to pass on.”

📊 6) The Hot New Asset Class Is Lego Sets [Bloomberg]

“Collecting Lego – yes, the plastic toys made of interlocking bricks that become cars and castles and robots – returned more than large stocks, bonds and gold in the three decades ending in 2015, says a study by Victoria Dobrynskaya, an assistant professor at Russia’s Higher School of Economics. ”

🎸 7) Behold the theorbo, an enormous baroque lute [BoingBoing]

“‘People complain a lot about the space that I take up,’ says Lutenist Elizabeth Kenny.”

🌍 8) It’s Waiting There For You: Toto’s ‘Africa’ Is Playing On Repeat In A Desert [NPR]

“Namibian-German artist Max Siedentopf installed Toto Forever late last December while back home with his family in Namibia. Six speakers are placed atop individual plinths and attached to an MP3 player that contains only the song; the entire thing is powered by solar energy with the promise that it will run ‘for all eternity.’”

👏 9) A typo landed him an invite to a bachelor party halfway across the country. Naturally, he’s going. [Washington Post]

“Will Novak was sitting in front of his computer Jan. 7 when an email flashed across the screen, advising him that his attention was urgently needed. The subject? Angelo’s bachelor party. The 35-year-old did not, however, know anyone named Angelo.”

(Well spotted, Miles!)

P.S. There are pics on Will’s Instagram feed.

💃 10) Dancing Dog Gets Haircut [YouTube]

Foxconn Looks Beyond China to India for iPhone Assembly

2019 01 23foxconn

That’s the headline on a story I wrote yesterday with my colleagues Yang Jie, Yoko Kubota, and Rajesh Roy.

It begins:

Apple Inc.’s largest iPhone assembler, Foxconn Technology Group, is considering producing the devices in India, people familiar with the matter said, a move that could reduce Apple’s dependence on China for manufacturing and potentially for sales.

Executives at Foxconn, a contract manufacturer that assembles a large portion of the world’s iPhones in China, are studying whether to include an India project in budget plans, one of the people said. Senior executives, possibly including Chairman Terry Gou, plan to visit India after next month’s Lunar New Year to discuss plans, the people familiar said.

Foxconn’s look at India comes as sustained friction between Washington and Beijing over trade and technology is pushing many companies to consider diversifying their supply chains away from China, a global center of assembly for smartphones, computers and other electronics.

Click through to read the rest.

Facebook’s WhatsApp Limits Users’ Ability to Forward Messages

2019 01 22whatsapp

That’s the headline on my most recent story, out yesterday, with my colleague James Hookway. It begins:

Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp messaging service is limiting users’ ability to forward content, seeking to curtail ways the popular platform allows the spread of misinformation and sometimes has led to violence.

The move, which follows months of criticism over the company’s response to such incidents, is one of the bigger changes Facebook has made to one of its core services in response to political pressure.

The company said Monday that WhatsApp’s more than one billion global users can now only forward material to five individual users or groups at once, down from 20.

NN 161: Our Uber CEO Interview; Interstellar Bodies; Weed Worries; Harry Potter Puppies

nighttime sky

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

📹 1) For Owners of Amazon’s Ring Security Cameras, Strangers May Have Been Watching Too [The Intercept]

“Beginning in 2016, according to one source, Ring provided its Ukraine-based research and development team virtually unfettered access to a folder on Amazon’s S3 cloud storage service that contained every video created by every Ring camera around the world.”

👴🏻 2) People older than 65 share the most fake news, a new study finds [The Verge]

“In fact, age predicted their behavior better than any other characteristic — including party affiliation.”

⭐ 3) How Mark Burnett Resurrected Donald Trump as an Icon of American Success [New Yorker]

“‘I don’t think any of us could have known what this would become,’ Katherine Walker, a producer on the first five seasons of ‘The Apprentice,’ told me. ‘But Donald would not be President had it not been for that show.’”

👽 4) Avi Loeb on the Mysterious Interstellar Body ’Oumuamua [Spiegel]

Astronomer Avi Loeb believes that the interstellar object dubbed ’Oumuamua could actually be a probe sent by alien beings. Given the evidence that has so far been gathered, he says, it is a possible conclusion to draw.

🚬 5) Is Marijuana as Safe as We Think? [New Yorker]

"In some cases, heavy cannabis use does seem to cause mental illness. As the National Academy panel declared, in one of its few unequivocal conclusions, ‘Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk.’’

➡️ 6) The Weight I Carry [The Atlantic]

“I weigh 460 pounds. Those are the hardest words I’ve ever had to write. Nobody knows that number—not my wife, not my doctor, not my closest friends. It feels like confessing a crime.”

📚 7) The best books on Creating a Career You Love [FiveBooks]

“Bestselling business author Emma Gannon tells Five Books about the career advice books that have inspired her most.”

📺 8) The 20 Best TV Dramas Since ‘The Sopranos’ [NY Times]

“Before ‘The Sopranos,’’ yes, TV dramas could take risks (‘Twin Peaks’) and tell stories about difficult people (‘NYPD Blue’). But after the ducks landed in Tony’s backyard pool in January 1999, an immense flock followed….If ‘The Sopranos,’’ which debuted 20 years ago this week, built the ground floor, this list looks at what TV erected on top of it.”

🌍 9) The Mysterious Life (and Death) of Africa’s Oldest Trees [TOPIC]

“A shocking study published in 2018 found that some of the most beautiful, and famous, baobab trees are dying. What will this mean for the people who depend on them—and for the planet?”

🧙‍♂️ 10) my dog only responds to Harry Potter spells [YouTube]

India Wants Access to Encrypted WhatsApp Messages

2019 01 17whatsappindia

That’s the headline on my most recent story, out Tuesday and in Wednesday’s print WSJ. It begins:

NEW DELHI— Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp is facing pressure in India to let authorities trace and read the encrypted messages of its more than 200 million Indian users in a new attempt at constraining global tech giants.

India’s telecommunications regulator has asked for feedback on new rules that—in the name of national security—could force “over the top” services such as WhatsApp, which use mobile operators’ infrastructure, to allow the government access to users’ messages.

At the same time India’s Information Technology Ministry has proposed new intermediary guidelines that would force WhatsApp and others to trace messages and remove objectionable content within 24 hours.

WhatsApp—which has more users in India than in any other country—has “pushed back on government attempts to ban or weaken end-to-end encryption and will continue to do so,” said a person familiar with the company’s thinking.

Click through to read the rest.

Uber CEO Says Market Turmoil Won’t Derail IPO Plans

2019 01 14uberceo

That’s the headline on my latest story, out Tuesday and in Wednesdsay’s print WSJ. It begins:

Uber Technologies Inc. Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi said market turbulence in the U.S. would be unlikely to affect the ride-hailing titan’s plans for a public listing.

“Any company that’s going public would like to do it in a positive, stable market,” Mr. Khosrowshahi said in an interview Tuesday in Singapore. But the startup is large and flexible enough to go public in almost any market, he said. “We’ll do it when we’re ready, and, hopefully, the markets will be in a good state."

Mr. Khosrowshahi said Uber was internally on track to list this year, having previously said he expected to seek a debut in the second half of 2019 in what would be one of the biggest public offerings planned for the year. The company is also keeping an eye out for a possible debut by rival U.S. firm Lyft Inc., which has indicated it plans to seek an IPO this year and filed confidentially with the SEC the same day Uber did.

“The good news is that we’ve got a strong balance sheet so we don’t need to go public this year,” he said. “It’s a desire,” he said, but “if it doesn’t happen it doesn’t happen. “I’d be disappointed and I think our shareholders would be disappointed but the company would be just fine."

Click through to read the rest.

Popular Weather App Collects Too Much User Data, Security Experts Say

2019 01 03weather app

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

NEW DELHI—A popular weather app built by a Chinese tech conglomerate has been collecting an unusual amount of data from smartphones around the world and attempting to subscribe some users to paid services without permission, according to a London-based security firm’s research.

The free app, one of the world’s most-downloaded weather apps in Google’s Play store, is from TCL Communication Technology Holdings Ltd., of Shenzhen, China. TCL makes Alcatel- and BlackBerry -branded phones, while a sister company makes televisions.

The app, called “Weather Forecast—World Weather Accurate Radar,” collects data including smartphone users’ geographic locations, email addresses and unique 15-digit International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers on TCL servers in China, according to Upstream Systems, the mobile commerce and security firm that found the activity. Until last month, the app was known as “Weather—Simple weather forecast.”

A TCL spokesman didn’t address queries about the amount of data the app collects.

The weather app also has attempted to surreptitiously subscribe more than 100,000 users of its low-cost Alcatel smartphones in countries such as Brazil, Malaysia and Nigeria to paid virtual-reality services, according to Upstream Systems. The security firm, which discovered the activity as part of its work for mobile operators, said users would have been billed more than $1.5 million had it not blocked the attempts.

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Amazon, Walmart Foiled as India Tightens E-Commerce Rules

Screen Shot 2018 12 30 at 1 18 39 PM

That’s the headline of a story I wrote Thursday with my colleague Corinne Abrams. It begins:

India is tightening restrictions on foreign e-commerce companies operating in the country, in a new challenge to Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc. as they bet billions on the nascent market.

Current rules forbid non-Indian online sellers from holding their own inventory and shipping it out to consumers, as is typically done in other countries. Instead, the foreign sellers have found a work-around, selling online what are effectively their own products but held by their affiliated local companies.

Click through to read the rest.

We wrote more about the issue Friday in another story, which began:

American firms are plowing billions into India’s internet economy in part because, unlike China, India promised a level playing field for foreign firms to compete against local companies. Now that field may be tilting toward domestic startups amid a global backlash against U.S. tech titans, according to analysts and industry officials.

With national elections approaching early next year, India’s government said Wednesday it is tightening restrictions on foreign e-commerce players, the latest move in recent months that restrains their freedom to operate compared with local firms. The new rules present a fresh challenge to Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc. as they aim for growing slices of a market where many of India’s 1.3 billion people are starting to shop online thanks to inexpensive smartphones and data.

Vinay Kesari, a Bangalore-based technology lawyer specializing in regulatory matters who has worked with U.S. tech firms, said such moves to rein in foreign tech companies have been highly unusual and may be a sign of more to come.

“I’ve never seen anything like this happening,” he said. “All bets are off at this point.”

Click through to read the rest.