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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.

Categories
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.

Categories
Newley's Notes

Newley’s Notes 175: Sri Lanka Bombings

2019 05 05srilanka

Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes.

Apologies for my absence these past two weeks.

On Easter Sunday, when NN was last due to go out, news emerged about the horrific bombings at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that killed more than 250 people. I was soon on a plane from New Delhi to Colombo.

I spent a good chunk of time in the capital and in the coastal city of Batticaloa. It was a heartbreaking story, but I’m proud of the work my WSJ colleagues and I did to document the events and get at the truth of what happened.

This week’s NN, then, will not be the typically wide ranging compendium of disparate links, but will focus mainly on the stories I wrote from Sri Lanka, along with a couple of other items you may have missed.

Here goes, in chronological order:

1) With my colleague Jon Emont: Sri Lanka Blocks Social Media Amid Bomb Attacks [WSJ]

“As Sri Lankan authorities scrambled amid a wave of deadly bombings across the country on Easter morning, among their first responses was to block social media, including Facebook and the popular messaging service WhatsApp.”

The block has since been lifted, but reflected, as we wrote, the “growing concerns in many parts of the world about the spread of false information and hate speech on social media and the use of online platforms to incite or exacerbate tensions.”

👂➡ Note: I later discussed the story with Kim Gittleson on The WSJ’s What’s News podcast.

2) With my colleague Eric Bellman: ‘Everyone Has Lost Someone’—Sri Lankan Church Bombing’s Wrenching Toll [WSJ]

“A parishioner was leading a prayer of thanksgiving to wrap up Easter Sunday services when a tall, slim young man ran into St. Sebastian’s Church from a side door.

Eric and I focused on one of the hardest hit churches, speaking with victims’ families and others from the community to tell the story of what happened that day.

3) Another piece with my colleague Eric Bellman: Sri Lankans Adapt to Social-Media Shutdown as Government Holds the Line [WSJ]

“While some citizens said they welcomed the restrictions, others said they had found workarounds.”

4) A story with my colleagues Ben Otto and Niharkia Mandhana: Islamist Preacher Died in Sri Lanka Attack [WSJ]

“Authorities confirmed that a radical preacher who inspired a series of Easter bombings died during the attack, but security forces pursued Islamist militants into Friday evening, engaging in fierce firefights in the area from which he hailed.”

5) Sri Lankan Islamist Called for Violence on Facebook Before Easter Attacks [WSJ]

“Facebook declined to comment on when, or how many, of Hashim’s Facebook postings it has removed nor did the company say when it initiated the 24-hour monitoring in local languages. Facebook deleted the videos still visible Tuesday after the Journal inquired about them.

Meanwhile, an item unrelated to Sri Lanka:

6) In NN 174 I shared the story I wrote about anti-vaccine misinformation on WhatsApp in India. Not long after it ran I joined CBS News’s Anne-Marie Green and Vladimir Duthiers to talk about the situation. The video clip is online here.

Thanks, as ever, for reading. Normal programming will resume next week.

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👊 Fist bump from New Delhi,
Newley

(Image via Sri Lanka Wikipedia page.)

Categories
Journalism Tech

App Traps: How Cheap Smartphones Siphon User Data in Developing Countries

That’s the headline of a story out Thurs. and in Friday’s paper that I wrote with my colleagues Josh Chin, Myo Myo, and Kersten Zhang. It begins:

For millions of people buying inexpensive smartphones in developing countries where privacy protections are usually low, the convenience of on-the-go internet access could come with a hidden cost: preloaded apps that harvest users’ data without their knowledge.

One such app, included on thousands of Chinese-made Singtech P10 smartphones sold in Myanmar and Cambodia, sends the owner’s location and unique-device details to a mobile-advertising firm in Taiwan called General Mobile Corp., or GMobi. The app also has appeared on smartphones sold in Brazil and those made by manufacturers based in China and India, security researchers said.

Taipei-based GMobi, with a subsidiary in Shanghai, said it uses the data to show targeted ads on the devices. It also sometimes shares the data with device makers to help them learn more about their customers.

Smartphones have been billed as a transformative technology in developing markets, bringing low-cost internet access to hundreds of millions of people. But this growing population of novice consumers, most of them living in countries with lax or nonexistent privacy protections, is also a juicy target for data harvesters, according to security researchers.

Smartphone makers that allow GMobi to install its app on phones they sell are able to use the app to send software updates for their devices known as “firmware” at no cost to them, said GMobi Chief Executive Paul Wu. That benefit is an important consideration for device makers pushing low-cost phones across emerging markets.

“If end users want a free internet service, he or she needs to suffer a little for better targeting ads,” said a GMobi spokeswoman.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
India Journalism Tech

Think American Elections Are Bad? Indian Voters Get 1,000 Texts a Day

2018 05 16whatsapp

That’s the headline of my most recent story, out yesterday, which I wrote with a few colleagues. It begins:

For Gurupad Kolli, a 40-year-old lawyer who lives in a remote Indian village, the torrent of WhatsApp messages surging to his phone a few weeks ago meant one thing: election day was near.

They’re at turns strident, angry, buoyant, informative, misleading, gripping and confusing, he says. Some days he received as many as 1,000 of them through the popular messaging service. Pleased to no longer “depend on the mass media like newspapers,” the resident of Ramapur village in the southern state of Karnataka nonetheless also conceded “there’s so much false and fake news going around.”

He isn’t alone in his bewilderment. The rapidly falling cost of smartphones and mobile data in the world’s second-most-populous nation has turbocharged the spread of WhatsApp, where it is growing far faster than other social media and messaging platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

India is home to more WhatsApp users than any other country, accounting for more than 200 million of the 1.5 billion monthly active global users. That rivals the popularity in India of Facebook Inc., which owns WhatsApp. Tens of millions of Indians of all ages have made the messaging service, which is simple to join and use, their entry point to the world of digital communication, especially in poor, remote areas where users are flocking to the internet for the first time.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
Journalism Tech

Uber Battles Ride-Sharing Startups in SoftBank ‘Family’

2018 03 04uber sb

That’s the headline of my newest story, which I wrote with my colleage Mayumi Negishi, out today. It begins:

SoftBank Group Corp., the world’s biggest technology investor, has poured some $20 billion into ride-sharing companies around the globe, including Uber Technologies Inc.

Now, those companies are spending at least some of SoftBank’s money to battle each other.

In Japan, Uber is gearing up to fight China’s Didi Chuxing Technology Co., which is planning to enter the market after an investment by SoftBank of around $10 billion.

In India, Uber is facing off with local champion ANI Technologies Inc.’s Ola, in which SoftBank has about a 30% stake and a board seat. SoftBank invested $7.7 billion in Uber for a 15% stake this year.

Uber and Ola are also grappling in Australia, where Ola started operations in February. Uber in Southeast Asia is trailing Singapore’s Grab Inc., whose president joined from SoftBank in 2016 following its $750 million investment in the company.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
Journalism

Why the iPhone Is Losing Out to Chinese Devices in Asia

2018 02 26 iphone asia

That’s the headline of my newest story, which ran last week.

It begins:

NEW DELHI—The iPhone X has set a new benchmark for smartphone prices and bolstered Apple Inc.’s bottom line, but its steep price may be hobbling its future in Asia’s biggest markets and allowing Chinese challengers to grab market share.

Buyers from India to Indonesia are opting for models from Chinese smartphone makers like Xiaomi Corp.—sometimes called “the Apple of China”—along with BBK Electronics Corp.’s Oppo and Vivo.

China’s manufacturers are increasingly churning out higher-priced devices that compete directly with Apple’s smartphones. They often have high-end features, but carry lower price tags than the iPhone X or even older iPhone models. They are targeting potential Apple customers by offering phones with robust hardware such as metal bodies, beefy batteries and unique features iPhones lack, including special cameras for taking better selfies.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
Journalism Singapore

Uber Rented Defective Cars in Singapore: Our Page 1 Story

2017 08 04wsjP1

I’m late in mentioning this as I’ve been on the road for a few weeks — and if you follow me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook this may be old news — but I wanted to link to a page 1 story I wrote with colleagues that ran earlier this month.

The headline: “Smoke, Then Fire: Uber Knowingly Leased Unsafe Cars to Drivers.” And the dek: “Chasing breakneck growth, the ride-hailing giant bought Honda SUVs in Singapore subject to a recall — then one caught fire.”

The piece begins:

Uber driver Koh Seng Tian had just dropped off a passenger in a residential neighborhood in Singapore when he smelled smoke in his Honda Vezel sport-utility vehicle. Flames burst from the dashboard, melting the interior and cracking a football-sized hole in his windshield.

Mr. Koh walked away unhurt, according to the accident report filed with authorities. But the fire this January caused panic at Uber Technologies Inc.

The ride-hailing company had rented the Vezel to Mr. Koh after Honda Motor Co. recalled the model in April 2016 for an electrical component that could overheat and catch fire.

Uber managers in Singapore were aware of the Honda recall when they bought more than 1,000 defective Vezels and rented them to Mr. Koh and other drivers without the needed repairs, according to internal Uber emails and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and interviews with people familiar with Uber’s operations in the region.

Click through to see some images and read the rest.

The story was followed by news outlets across the globe, including Bloomberg, Reuters, USA TODAY, CNBC, CNN, Quartz, Axios and more.

Categories
Journalism

New Story: As Allegations Swirl Around SoftBank, It Calls Them ‘Sabotage’

A new story out Thurs., which I wrote with my WSJ colleagues Bradley Hope and Alex Frangos, begins:

A contentious back-and-forth between SoftBank Group Corp. 9984 0.90% and attorneys who say they represent anonymous, disgruntled shareholders is riling the Japanese telecommunications titan.

The difficulties for SoftBank come as it is poised to begin investing $100 billion in technology startups around the world, and they have drawn concern from a Saudi Arabian investment vehicle that is set to commit $45 billion to the SoftBank technology fund.

The allegations from the attorneys have lingered over the past year about the conduct of top SoftBank executives, especially in India. The company announced last week it had taken a loss on $1.4 billion on investments, largely in Indian startups. In March, a complaint was submitted to an Indian financial regulator purporting to identify financial malfeasance in those deals, including that current or former SoftBank executives received kickbacks connected with the investments.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
India Journalism Tech

H-1B Visas and Trump: Round-up of My Recent WSJ Stories

2017 03 05USAlights

I’ve been writing a lot in the last few months about the H-1B skilled worker visa program, which thousands of people, mainly Indians, use to work in the U.S.

The program was designed to allow companies to hire workers for jobs they can’t fill locally, like those demanding sophisticated tech skills. But some say firms, like large Indian outsourcing companies with offices in the U.S., abuse the program to bring in less sophisticated workers as cost-saving measures — and lay off American workers — since they’ll do jobs for less than money.

It’s a huge issue not just for big American tech firms that want to be able to hire the best global talent, but also for Indian IT services firms that employ millions of people.

And with President Trump on the campaign trail assailing the program, many workers are concerned that changes to the program could force them to leave the country.

That’s the subject of my most recent story, which came out Monday. The headline: “Indian Workers in U.S. Fear Trump H-1B Visa Crackdown.

2017 03 05h1bwsj

They story — which I reported out for weeks, interviewing dozens of people — has produced quite a reaction online, prompting more than 450 comments on The WSJ site, and more than 800 reactions, 230 shares and 150 comments on Facebook.

Stay tuned for more on this topic.

Meanwhile, so they’re all in one place, I wanted to share links to some of my previous H-1B-related stories:

What the White House Said About Its Plans for H-1B Visas (Jan. 31, 2017):

Tighter restrictions on skilled worker visas to the U.S. could come via both executive action by President Donald Trump and via Congressional moves, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday.

Indian IT services firms are already girding for possible changes to the H-1B program, which they use to send tens of thousands of workers to the U.S. annually.

While a significant shakeup of the visa program would likely need to be approved by Congress, President Trump could use an executive directive to take steps like ending a provision announced in 2014 that allows spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the U.S, as The Wall Street Journal reported last week.

H-1B Visas: How Donald Trump Could Change America’s Skilled Worker Visa Rules (Jan. 24, 2017):

During his campaign, President Donald Trump assailed a skilled-worker visa program used to send foreigners to the U.S., and in his inaugural speech Friday he said the country would “follow two simple rules; buy American and hire American.”

Indian outsourcing firms are already preparing for potential changes to visa rules, which could present a challenge because they send thousands of workers to the U.S. every year via the H-1B program.

So how much, and how quickly, could Mr. Trump change the regulations?

A significant shakeup would likely need to be approved by Congress, though there are some steps Mr. Trump could take himself immediately, analysts say.

Indian Outsourcing Firms Prep for Curbs on H-1B Visa Workers Under Trump (Jan. 19, 2017):

NEW DELHI—President-elect Donald Trump doesn’t take office in Washington until Friday, but he is already forcing firms in India’s mammoth $108 billion technology-outsourcing industry to rethink their hiring practices in the U.S., their largest market.

While Mr. Trump has chastised U.S. firms for offshoring American jobs, Indian outsourcing firms could be set to see renewed heat for doing the opposite—placing foreign workers in the U.S., mainly through a skilled-worker visa, known as the H-1B. Faced with the prospect of possible new curbs on those visas from a president who has pledged to ensure that Americans get their first pick of available jobs, outsourcers are ramping up hiring both on American college campuses and at home in India.

H-1B Visas: U.S. Lawmaker Re-Introduces Bill to Tighten Rules (Jan. 6, 2017):

A prominent Republican lawmaker is taking another shot at tightening U.S. rules for high-skilled worker visas ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration as president later this month.

Rep. Darrell Issa, one of the highest-profile Republicans in Congress and a supporter of Mr. Trump, said Wednesday in a statement on his website that he is reintroducing a bill designed to “stop the outsourcing of American jobs” and ensure laws are not “abused to allow companies to outsource and hire cheap foreign labor from abroad.”

What Will Happen to H-1B Skilled-Worker Visas Under Donald Trump? (Nov. 17, 2016):

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will likely crack down on the use of skilled-worker visas issued to Indian outsourcing firms, said a leading anti-immigration campaigner.

Mr. Trump is still picking his cabinet, and how his policies will evolve is hard to guess, but he was elected pledging to restrict immigration. That means the tens of thousands of mostly Indian migrants entering America on high-skilled worker, or H-1B, visas could become a target for tougher vetting, said Roy Beck, president of Arlington, Va.-based NumbersUSA, which advocates for limited immigration.

“It would be very surprising if we don’t see the rules around H-1Bs really tighten,” he told The Wall Street Journal.