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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
India Journalism Tech

The Hottest Phones for the Next Billion Users Aren’t Smartphones

smart feature phones

That’s the headline on my most recent story, which came out Tuesday.

It begins:

NEW DELHI—The hottest phones for the world’s next billion users aren’t made by smartphone leaders Samsung Electronics Co. or Apple Inc. In fact, they aren’t even smartphones.

Millions of first-time internet consumers from the Ivory Coast to India and Indonesia are connecting to the web on a new breed of device that only costs about $25. The gadgets look like the inexpensive Nokia Corp. phones that were big about two decades ago. But these hybrid phones, fueled by inexpensive mobile data, provide some basic apps and internet access in addition to calling and texting.

Smart feature phones, as they are known, are one of the mobile-phone industry’s fastest-growing and least-known segments, providing a simple way for some of the world’s poorest people to enter the internet economy.

While global smartphone sales began sliding last year as markets became saturated, smart feature phone shipments tripled to around 75 million from 2017, according to research firm Counterpoint. Some 84 million are likely to be shipped this year.

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Categories
India Journalism Tech

Netflix and Amazon Trail a Local Video Rival in India That’s Now Disney-Owned

2019 06 06 hotstar netflix amazon

That’s the headline on my most recent story, out Tuesday.

It begins:

NEW DELHI—To win in India, home to many of the world’s next billion internet users, Netflix Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. are copying the tactics of a video-streaming service built for the local market.

Hotstar dominates the Indian market. Launched four years ago by media conglomerate Star India as a mobile-first streaming platform for watching cricket, movies and TV, it now has 300 million monthly users—roughly 10% more than YouTube, India’s second-biggest video content platform. While only three million users pay for access, that is still more than Amazon has, and more than twice as many as Netflix. Walt Disney Co. now owns Hotstar.

Netflix and Amazon, shut out of China and facing stiff competition in the maturing U.S. market, are adopting the strategies that fueled Hotstar’s success—low prices that the average Indian viewer can afford and loads of local content in multiple Indian languages.

Netflix is churning out Indian-language dramas, love stories and thrillers and slashing its monthly rates. Amazon has signed up local stand-up comedians and backed a “Sex and the City” clone about a group of women in Mumbai that is broadcast in three Indian languages.

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India Journalism Tech

Modi’s Re-Election Means More Scrutiny for U.S. Tech Giants

2019 05 26modi tech

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

NEW DELHI – U.S. technology firms recently facing pushback in India, the world’s biggest untapped digital economy, can expect more scrutiny following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s resounding re-election, according to executives and analysts.

They expect Mr. Modi’s government to continue tightening restrictions on American titans such as Amazon.com Inc., Walmart Inc. and Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp.

U.S. firms have been pouring billions of dollars into the country of 1.3 billion people in part because, unlike China, India has provided a level playing field for foreign firms at a time when hundreds of millions of people are getting online thanks to cheaper mobile data and smartphones.

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Categories
India Journalism

India Antitrust Watchdog Sniffs Around E-Commerce Players

india_ecommerce_amazon_flipkart

That’s the headline on my newest story, a scoop out yesterday with my colleague Rajesh Roy.

The lede and first few grafs:

NEW DELHI–India’s antitrust watchdog is assessing the domestic e-commerce sector, a step that could have consequences for Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc.’s Flipkart, which dominate online sales in the country.

In a questionnaire dated May 17, the Competition Commission of India says it is seeking to understand the evolution of the e-commerce industry, the sector’s methods and strategies, business practices and “implications for competition,” according to a copy reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Ernst & Young is conducting the study, according to the 14-page document, which is marked confidential.

The questions cover the percentage of products sold by categories, inventory practices, how pricing decisions are made and total sales volume, among other subjects.

“What if tomorrow Amazon takes over Walmart-controlled Flipkart or vice versa? Wouldn’t there be a complete monopoly? This needs to be checked,” said an official at India’s Ministry of Corporate Affairs who declined to be named. The ministry oversees the Competition Commission.

A spokesman for the Competition Commission of India didn’t respond to a request for comment about the questionnaire Tuesday. Representatives in India for Ernst & Young, Amazon and Flipkart also didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Categories
India Journalism Tech

SoftBank Doubles Down on Indian Grocery Venture

softbank_grofers

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

NEW DELHI–SoftBank Group Corp. is doubling down on its bet on an Indian grocery-delivery startup, in the global investor’s latest foray in the world’s largest untapped tech market.

Grofers India Pvt. said Wednesday that it received just over $200 million in a funding round led by the Vision Fund, which SoftBank Chief Executive Masayoshi Son is using to invest in cutting-edge technologies. Tiger Global Management and Sequoia Capital, two other prominent tech investors, also participated in the round, said Grofers, which is based in Gurgaon, India.

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Categories
India Journalism

India Investigates Google for Suspected Android Abuse

google india

That’s the headline on my most recent story, out Friday, which I wrote with my colleague Rajesh Roy.

It begins:

India’s antitrust watchdog is investigating whether Alphabet Inc.’s Google used its Android platform to block rivals, New Delhi’s latest move to try to tamp down American tech behemoths.

The investigation launched by the Competition Commission of India resembles a case last year in which the European Union fined Google $4.87 billion for what it said was abuse of its dominant Android mobile operating system to boost its own business, according to an Indian government official with knowledge of the matter.

The case is another example of antitrust authorities in many parts of the world taking cues from the EU, which has been investigating Google for nearly a decade.

“We have consulted the EU and the U.S. on the matter, and decided to move forward with the investigation as primary scrutiny suggests abuse by Google,” said the official, who declined to be identified.

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Categories
Journalism

Me on CBS News Discussing Antivaccine Misinformation on WhatsApp in India

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I joined CBS News’s Anne-Marie Green and Vladimir Duthiers on Monday to discuss my recent story about antivaccine misinformation on WhatsApp here in India.

The clip is online here.

Categories
India Journalism

WhatsApp Users Spread Antivaccine Rumors in India

2019 04 15 whatsapp vaccine india

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

Antivaccine misinformation, some of it from social media posts in the West, is spreading in India on WhatsApp, undermining efforts to root out measles and rubella in a country where tens of thousands of people are struck by the diseases each year.

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Categories
India Journalism

Fake News Is Rampant on WhatsApp as Indian Elections Loom

2019 04 01 whatsapp india

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

NEW DELHI — In India, viral fake news is lighting up Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp messaging app as the world’s biggest democracy prepares for national elections in the coming weeks.

Efforts by WhatsApp and the government to stop the spread of misinformation are having little effect, according to fact-checking groups and analysts.

That is a challenge for Facebook, as well as policy makers and voters grappling with digital falsehoods in India, a country of 1.3 billion people where mobile internet access has exploded in recent years.

It also provides a unique window on how Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg’s surprising strategic shift from public postings to private messaging could play out around the world. Mr. Zuckerberg said in March that Facebook would move to a model favoring encrypted group chats like those on WhatsApp, which is popular in emerging economies including Brazil and Indonesia.

India is WhatsApp’s biggest market. Research firm Counterpoint estimates it has 300 million users, making it bigger here than Facebook. WhatsApp hasn’t released user figures since February 2017, when it said it had 200 million users in India. Since then, plummeting prices for mobile data and inexpensive smartphones have made WhatsApp the default digital town square in a country with deep societal divides.

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