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Journalism Tech

India Ban Disrupts TikTok Users and China’s Digital Ambitions

That’s the headline on my newest story, our Tuesday, with my colleague Liza Lin. It begins:

India’s decision to ban dozens of Chinese apps is a big setback for China’s top tech firms trying to replicate their remarkable domestic success globally, as they are now stymied in what many consider the world’s last great untapped digital market.

India would block new downloads and prevent or disrupt access for existing Indian users of 59 Chinese apps in a matter of days, a government official who is familiar with the matter said Tuesday. “We have already asked Google and Apple to take note of the government’s latest decision and remove the apps,” the official said, “They are in the process of executing the ban.”

The official, who declined to be named, also said authorities are working with internet service providers to block access for existing app users.

Among the apps are Bytedance Ltd.’s wildly popular TikTok—which has been downloaded 660 million times in India, the company’s largest market by users outside China—along with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s UC Browser and Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat messaging platform. Some TikTok users in India have started to receive error messages and are unable to access the video app, according to checks by The Wall Street Journal.

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India Journalism Tech

Facebook Takes $5.7 Billion Stake in India’s Jio Platforms

That’s the headline on my most recent story, out Wednesday with my colleague Jeff Horwitz. It begins:

Facebook Inc. said it would pay $5.7 billion for just under 10% of Indian telecom operator Jio Platforms Ltd., a massive expansion of the social media giant’s commitment to a promising market where it has faced difficulties.

The deal, unveiled late Tuesday, is Facebook’s largest overseas investment and gives it the opportunity to bring its WhatsApp messaging service—which has more than 400 million users in India—into closer partnership with the mobile operator that upended India’s telecommunications industry with cut-rate data plans.

Jio Platforms Ltd. and its subsidiary, mobile operator Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., are part of Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd. Jio Infocomm provides services to about 388 million customers.

The deal shows how Facebook, like other tech giants, is pushing ahead and taking advantage of its relative strength during a pandemic that is causing most other industries to retreat.

In a subsequent story, I looked a little closer at the who gets what out of the deal. The lede:

Facebook Inc.’s $5.7 billion tie-up with an Indian mobile leader could create a new kind of animal in the world’s biggest untapped digital market: a social media behemoth wedded to a mobile infrastructure titan—both coveting e-commerce.

Now the two companies are expected to square off against some formidable online shopping rivals: Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc., which have each invested billions in the South Asian market.

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Journalism Tech

Facebook’s WhatsApp Battles Coronavirus Misinformation

whatsapp forwarding

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

Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp is limiting users’ ability to forward content on its encrypted messaging platform, as misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic proliferates on the service in its biggest market, India.

In one of the biggest changes WhatsApp has made to a core feature, the company said Tuesday that its more than two billion users globally can now send along frequently forwarded messages they receive to only one person or group at a time, down from five.

In recent weeks the company has “seen a significant increase in the amount of forwarding which users have told us can feel overwhelming and can contribute to the spread of misinformation,” the company said.

WhatsApp is also testing a new feature that enables users to click an icon next to frequently forwarded messages—those forwarded at least five times—to search the web for their contents and verify them before sending the message to others, a WhatsApp spokeswoman said.

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Journalism Tech

Hotel Giant Oyo Looks to Rewrite Contracts That Fueled Its Rise

That’s the headline on my most recent story, written with my colleague Phred Dvorak, out Thursday. It begins:

Oyo Hotels and Homes, which built itself into the world’s second-biggest hotel chain by total number of rooms, is phasing out an important tool that fueled its rise.

The India-based company and a key investment by SoftBank Group Corp.’s $100 billion tech fund grew quickly in part by offering independent hotel owners the unusual perk of guaranteed revenues if their hotels joined Oyo’s chain. Many hotels signed up, attracted by the guarantees—sometimes at more than 100% of the previous year’s revenue, according to former Oyo employees. However, some hotels didn’t produce sufficient bookings, leaving Oyo on the hook to meet those revenue levels and resulting in disputes with some hotel owners.

Now, Oyo is ending the practice of awarding those guarantees around the world and instead is rolling out new contracts for its hoteliers without them, Chief Executive Ritesh Agarwal told The Wall Street Journal. The new contracts also raise fees charged to the hotels, according to some hotels and former Oyo employees.

Mr. Agarwal said the company is taking the step largely because the guarantees have served their purpose of convincing hotels that Oyo could boost their occupancy and revenue. But he said Oyo had some problems with the guarantees, particularly in its biggest market of China, and that around 15% of Oyo’s rooms still had them as of the beginning of the year.

“In reflection, we are able to see that minimum guarantees work, but only when they are handled with great care,” he said. Oyo’s share of the money guests pay for their rooms is on average more than 15%, after any losses on the guarantees are subtracted, he said.

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India Journalism Tech

Amazon’s Bezos Pledges New $1 Billion India Investment Amid Pushback

That’s the headline on my newest story, with my colleague Krishna Pokharel, out Wednesday. It begins:

NEW DELHI— Amazon.com Inc. Chief Executive Jeff Bezos pledged to invest an additional $1 billion in the company’s Indian operations, part of a charm offensive in a promising but challenging market.

Mr. Bezos told a gathering of local Amazon sellers that the intent is to help more small businesses start selling on the company’s marketplace. The new funds will supplement the $5 billion that Amazon has said it is spending to build out its Indian business, a spokeswoman said.

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India Journalism Tech

India Orders WhatsApp, Google to Save Data on Mob Attack

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

NEW DELHI — An Indian court ordered Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp and Alphabet Inc.’s Google to preserve data connected to an attack on a university campus earlier this month in the latest attempt by authorities in the country to wrangle more control over the messaging and search giants.

According to an attorney involved in the case, the Delhi High Court said Tuesday that the companies, local police and university authorities must try to save messages, photos and videos connected to the Jan. 5 attack, when several dozen people stormed the campus of New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, injuring 32 students and two faculty members.

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India Journalism Tech

India Orders Antitrust Probe of Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart

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

NEW DELHI–India’s antitrust watchdog ordered a probe into whether Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc.’s Flipkart have violated competition laws, New Delhi’s latest move to try to rein in American tech giants that dominate its burgeoning internet economy.

The investigation launched by the Competition Commission of India Monday said it would focus on allegations that the U.S. titans promote “preferred sellers” of goods on their platforms, which may have hurt smaller rivals.

“It has been alleged that most of these preferred sellers are affiliated with or controlled by Flipkart or Amazon, either directly or indirectly,” the order said.

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India Journalism Tech

Me on ‘The Journal’ Podcast Talking U.S. Tech Giants and India

Quick heads up: I was on the latest edition of The WSJ‘s “The Journal” podcast talking about my recent story on U.S. tech giants facing pushback here in India.

I was happy to join in as I’ve long admired the show, and this was my first appearance.

You can listen online here or in your favorite podcast app. Just search for “The Journal.” The episode was out yesterday, December 10, and is called “India Rewrites the Rules for Big Tech.”

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India Journalism Tech

Silicon Valley-Backed App Lenders Use Phone Data to Hassle Borrowers

2019 12 03 wsj front page

That’s the headline on my most recent story, with my colleague Justin Scheck.

It was on the front page of Friday’s WSJ.

It begins:

NEW DELHI–Silicon Valley venture capital is funding a wave of fintech startups in India that use data from borrowers’ cellphones to collect on debts in ways that are illegal in both India and the U.S.

The startups are providing much-needed credit in India, where consumer lending has been limited by a lack of credit scores and by banks that are reluctant to make personal loans. While the newcomers’ tactics are illegal, they are ignored by Indian regulators who want to encourage lending, according to analysts and company insiders. The startups also use personal data to make lending decisions.

It is the latest example of Silicon Valley pushing legal and ethical boundaries in a global race for customers and profit. Lured by the promise of massive populations of people who are just beginning to transact online, tech companies are moving into banking in emerging markets, where cultural norms are complex, regulations are often weak, and many consumers lack credit histories or even official identification.

2019 12 03Silicon Valley Backed Fintech Apps Use Phone Data to Harass Borrowers

I also discussed the story on our What’s News podcast. You can listen on Spotify here or search your favorite podcast app for WSJ What’s News.

Categories
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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