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India Journalism

Musk’s Twitter Reinstates Hindu Nationalist Accounts That Disparage Muslims

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

Twitter Inc. under Elon Musk has reinstated several previously suspended Hindu nationalist accounts that were popular in India, one of its largest markets by users, with human-rights groups saying the move has spurred a resurgence of divisive religious material on the platform.

Some of the accounts that were suspended had been reported for posting hate speech aimed at religious minorities in India, according to groups that reported them. Upon their return in recent weeks, some have tweeted material denigrating Muslims and others.

The tweets include a debunked video that the person who posted it claimed showed a Muslim cleric spitting on rice before serving it to others, another calling Pakistani Muslims “rectums,” and a retweet of a user who called the Quran “the source of all evil.”

The Hindu-majority South Asian nation has deep social and religious divisions that have in the past erupted into fatal religious confrontations, sometimes connected to material spread online. Muslims make up about 14% of India’s population.

Twitter had 41 million users in India as of December, making it the company’s third-biggest market by users after the U.S. and Japan, according to eMarketer, a unit of data and research firm Insider Intelligence.

Twitter didn’t respond to requests for comment.

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India Tech

Meta-Backed Meesho Is Beating Amazon, Walmart in Race for Indian Shoppers

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

An upstart e-commerce service is winning more new shoppers in India than Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc.’s Flipkart, posing a challenge to the U.S. retailing titans, which have plowed billions of dollars into the world’s biggest untapped digital market.

Bengaluru-based Meesho is leading the burgeoning social-commerce sector, allowing users to sell items by sharing product listings with friends via Meta Platforms Inc.’s popular WhatsApp messaging service, along with Facebook and Instagram. Meta is also an investor in Meesho, with an undisclosed stake.

Meesho was the world’s most-downloaded shopping app during the first half of this year, according to app analytics firm Apptopia, with shoppers pointing to its ease of use, wide selection of products and low prices. Some 127 million people downloaded the app, which is available only in India, compared with 81 million downloads for Amazon and 50 million for Flipkart during the period.

Amazon and Flipkart are “more for the top 1%-5% of the population” in terms of income, specializing in more expensive goods such as smartphones and televisions, said Meesho Chief Financial Officer Dhiresh Bansal.

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India Journalism

Meta Officials Cite Security Concerns for Failing to Release Full India Hate-Speech Study

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

Executives at Meta Platforms Inc. privately told rights groups that security concerns prevented them from releasing details of its investigation into hate speech on its services in India, according to audio recordings heard by The Wall Street Journal.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, in July released a four-page summary of a human-rights impact assessment on India, its biggest market by users, where it has faced accusations of failing to adequately police hate speech against religious minorities. The India summary was part of the company’s first global human-rights report. The 83-page global report offers detailed findings of some previous investigations; it included only general descriptions of its India assessment, which disappointed some rights advocates.

“This is not the report that the human-rights team at Meta wanted to publish, we wanted to be able to publish more,” Iain Levine, a Meta senior human-rights adviser, said during private online briefings with rights groups in late July after the summary was released, according to the recordings.

“A decision was made at the highest levels of the company based upon both internal and external advice that it was not possible to do so for security reasons,” he said.

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India Tech

Proton CEO Is Shutting Down India VPN Servers to Protest Cybersecurity Rules

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

The Swiss company behind well-known virtual-private-network service Proton VPN is pulling its servers from India, the latest provider to do so in response to new government rules that companies and rights groups say threaten users’ privacy.

India’s agency overseeing computer security will effective Sunday require VPN operators in the country to collect information such as customers’ names, email addresses and the IP addresses they use to connect to the internet. The companies must maintain the data for at least five years and furnish it to authorities when asked.

India’s move will undermine internet freedom and endanger activists and whistleblowers, who often use VPNs to protect their identities from the government, Proton AG Chief Executive Andy Yen said in an interview Thursday. Virtual private networks let internet users shield their location and identities online by encrypting and routing their traffic through “tunnels” between their services and customers’ computers.

“It’s going to have a chilling effect. I find it really sad that the world’s largest democracy is taking this path,” Mr. Yen said. “On paper India is supposedly taking a different path from China and Russia,” where similar rules are in place, he said.

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A related story from a few weeks back is here.

Categories
India Tech

Global VPN Providers Pull India Servers Over New Cybersecurity Rules

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

Major global providers of virtual private networks, which let internet users shield their identities online, are shutting down their servers in India to protest new government rules they say threaten their customers’ privacy.

The Indian agency overseeing computer security will soon require VPN operators in India to collect information such as customer’s names, email addresses and the IP addresses they use to connect to the internet. Providers must maintain the data for at least five years and furnish the information to authorities when asked.

India’s Computer Emergency Response Team has said the new rules, which will be implemented from Sept. 25, are needed to tackle cybercrime and defend the “sovereignty or integrity of India” and the security of the state.

But the withdrawing VPN companies and internet-rights groups say by collecting such data, the companies will imperil their users’ privacy and curtail online speech. Digital groups say the government’s rules amount to overreach and are more typical of those imposed in China or Russia than in democracies.

Among the VPN services that have shut down their local servers in India:

  • NordVPN
  • Private Internet Access
  • IPVanish
  • TunnelBear
  • ExpressVPN
  • Surfshark

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India Journalism Tech

Twitter Fights India’s Order Compelling the Company to Block Some Tweets

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

Twitter Inc. said Tuesday it has filed a legal challenge against the Indian government’s orders that the social-media company block some users’ accounts and individual tweets in the country, ramping up a battle over online speech between U.S. tech giants and New Delhi.

In recent weeks, Twitter rendered unviewable in India tweets from a prominent Indian journalist and the founder of a popular fact-checking website, according to a public database of removal requests for online material. The two between them have more than two million followers.

The tweets, from journalist Rana Ayyub and from Mohammed Zubair of the Alt News website, referred to what they called an anti-Muslim climate in the country. Last month, the killing of a Hindu man by two Muslim men who said they were avenging an insult to Islam inflamed religious tensions in the country.

Orders from India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology compelling Twitter to block tweets “demonstrate excessive use of powers and are disproportionate,” according to a summary of the petition viewed by The Wall Street Journal. Twitter said it filed the application for a judicial review of the orders Tuesday in the high court of the state of Karnataka, where the company is registered.

If such orders aren’t followed, Twitter staff in the country could be imprisoned for up to seven years and face a fine, according to the country’s IT Act.

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Categories
India Tech

India Hits Apple With Antitrust Investigation Over App-Store Practices

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

India’s antitrust watchdog ordered an investigation into how Apple Inc. runs its App Store, becoming the most recent country to take aim at the U.S. technology giant.

The order from the Competition Commission of India said Friday that its initial view is that the Cupertino, Calif., company has violated some of the country’s antitrust laws. The body is “prima facie convinced that a case is made out for directing an investigation” into Apple, the order said.

The watchdog was responding to a complaint earlier last year from an Indian nonprofit group alleging that a 30% fee Apple charges developers selling digital content via their apps harms software makers and stifles competition. Apple has denied the claims, saying it is focused on making its devices as attractive as possible to consumers, according to the order.

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India Journalism Tech

Netflix Slashes India Prices in Battle with Amazon, Disney

That’s the headline on a story I wrote, out Thursday. It begins:

Netflix Inc. is slashing its prices in India, a key market for global growth where it trails cheaper rival streaming services from Amazon. com Inc. and Walt Disney Co.

The Los Gatos, Calif., company this week said in a blog post from India executive Monika Shergill that it is cutting its basic plan in India by 60% to 199 rupees, equivalent to $2.61, a month. Netflix also lowered prices on its least expensive plan, which offers mobile-only viewing, to $1.95 monthly. Its most expensive plan has been cut to $8.51.

Netflix has continued to switch up its strategy in the South Asian nation since launching in 2016, when it targeted the country’s more affluent consumers with plans that started at $7.50 a month.

The announcement didn’t provide a reason for the latest price reduction. A Netflix spokeswoman said the company is reducing its prices so more consumers can access its material in the country. She added that the company has been investing heavily in local content in India.

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India Journalism Tech

India Investigates Hacking of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter Account

That’s the headline on my newest story, out December 13 with my colleague Rajesh Roy. It begins:

Indian officials are investigating how Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter account was hacked, with a tweet to his more than 73 million followers falsely saying India was adopting bitcoin as legal tender and distributing it to people in the country.

The account was briefly compromised before being secured, the prime minister’s office said on Twitter. The issue had been escalated to Twitter Inc., and the tweet should be ignored, the office said.

Twitter said its systems weren’t breached in the hack. The company has round-the-clock lines of communication open with the prime minister’s office and secured Mr. Modi’s account “as soon as we became aware of this activity,” a Twitter spokeswoman said. A Twitter investigation showed no other accounts appeared to be affected, she added.

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India Journalism

Facebook Is Stifling Independent Report on Its Impact in India, Human Rights Groups Say

That’s the headline on my most recent story, an exclusive out November 12. It begins:

Human rights groups say Facebook is stifling an independent report it commissioned to investigate hate speech on its services in India, the company’s largest market by customers and where scrutiny of its operations is increasing.

Representatives for the organizations say they have provided extensive input to a U.S. law firm that Facebook commissioned in mid-2020 to undertake the report. The groups say they supplied hundreds of examples of inflammatory content and suggested ways Facebook could better police its services in India.

Facebook executives from the company’s human rights team, which is overseeing the law firm’s effort, have since narrowed the draft report’s scope and are delaying a process that has already taken more than a year, the groups say.

“They are trying to kill it,” said Ratik Asokan of India Civil Watch International, one of the organizations that provided the law firm with input. Mr. Asokan said that Facebook has raised technical objections through the law firm that have caused delays, such as changing definitions of what can be considered hate speech and included in the report, undermining what Facebook said would be an independent study. The law firm hasn’t provided a timeline for completing it, he said.

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