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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.

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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.

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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.

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