Journalism Tech

Dropping WhatsApp? Nostalgia Drives Users to ICQ


That’s the headline on my newest story, an offbeat piece — an A-hed, in Wall Street Journal parlance — with my colleague Joyu Wang. It went online yesterday and is on today’s front page. (The print headline: “Wariness of WhatsApp Sends Users on a Nostalgia Trip.”)

It begins:

HONG KONG — WhatsApp users around the world who are worried about the company’s shifting policy on data privacy are flocking to rival messaging apps such as Signal and Telegram.

In Hong Kong, some are choosing an alternative that reminds them of their childhood—before algorithms, Big Tech and viral misinformation.

ICQ was a pioneering, mid-1990s internet messaging service then used on bulky PCs on dial-up. It was a precursor to AOL Instant Messenger, and was last in vogue when the TV show “Friends” was in its prime and PalmPilots were cutting edge.

It’s been modernized over the years, and now is an app for smartphones. Lately it has skyrocketed up Hong Kong’s app charts, with downloads jumping 35-fold in the week ending Jan. 12.

“It recalls my childhood memories,” said 30-year-old risk consultant Anthony Wong, who used ICQ when he was in grade school. He has since connected with more than two dozen friends on the platform after some bristled this month at a privacy policy update by WhatsApp that would allow some data to be stored on parent Facebook Inc.’s servers.

Click through to read this rest.

My previous A-heds have been about a globe-trotting McDonald’s food blogger and the phenomenon in India of “good morning” messages.

India Journalism Tech

Oyo Hotel Chain Suffered Ailments Beyond Pandemic’s Travel Slowdown

WSJ Oyo page one

That’s the (online) headline on my newest story, which I wrote with my colleague Phred Dvorak. It’s on today’s WSJ front page. It begins:

Just over a year ago, India’s Oyo Hotels & Homes was among the world’s hottest startups and the second-largest hotel chain globally. It had billions of dollars from SoftBank Group Corp.’s Vision Fund and others, and a valuation that had doubled in a year to as high as $10 billion.

Covid-19, and the destruction it dealt travel, blew up much of that. But Oyo’s issues run deeper than the pandemic. The company already faced problems from its rapid expansion, issues that won’t be fully solved by a post-vaccine travel recovery.

Oyo has seen thousands of hoteliers leave its network amid complaints from many that they have been treated unfairly. The company’s challenges outside India threaten its global ambitions.

Click through to read the rest, or pick up a copy of today’s paper.

India Journalism Tech

In India, Facebook Fears Crackdown on Hate Groups Could Backfire on Its Staff

That’s the headline on my newest story, an exclusive with my colleague Jeff Horwitz, out Sunday. It begins:

Dozens of religious extremists burst into a Pentecostal church outside New Delhi in June, claiming it was built atop a Hindu temple. The group installed a Hindu idol in protest, and a pastor says he was punched in the head by attackers.

Members of a Hindu nationalist organization known as Bajrang Dal claimed responsibility in a video describing the incursion that has been viewed almost 250,000 times on Facebook. The social-media company’s safety team earlier this year concluded that Bajrang Dal supported violence against minorities across India and likely qualified as a “dangerous organization” that should be banned from the platform, according to people familiar with the matter.

Facebook Inc. balked at removing the group following warnings in a report from its security team that cracking down on Bajrang Dal might endanger both the company’s business prospects and its staff in India, the people said. Besides risking infuriating India’s ruling Hindu nationalist politicians, banning Bajrang Dal might precipitate physical attacks against Facebook personnel or facilities, the report warned.

Such conflicting concerns underscore the struggle Facebook faces in policing hate speech that exists in the vast sea of content posted to its platform around the world. The calculus is especially complicated in India, Facebook’s largest market by users. Facebook has staff on the ground, recently invested $5.7 billion in a new retail venture and interacts with a government whose politicians have ties to Hindu nationalist groups.

“We enforce our Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy globally without regard to political position or party affiliation,” said Facebook spokesman Andy Stone, calling the company’s process for determining what entities to ban careful, rigorous and multidisciplinary.

Click through to read the rest.

Links to our previous stories on Facebook in India, if you missed them, are here:


My Top 10 Favorite Apps

Adapted from an edition of my newsletter, Newley’s Notes, sent November 18, 2020. Image via William Hook on Unsplash

In recent posts I’ve shared my ten favorite email newsletters and my ten favorite podcasts This time…

My Top 10 Favorite Apps

(Note, I’m an iPhone user, and some of these are iOS-only.)

💬 1) WhatsApp – I may use this app more than any other, not just because I need to know how it works for my job, but because it’s hugely useful. Especially for communicating with family and friends internationally.

🎧 2) For podcasts, I like Overcast. It works well, has done for years, and is actively maintained by one, single, meticulous developer, Marco Arment.

🔒 3) 1Password is my password manager of choice.

(What’s that? You’re not using a password manager? Use a password manager! “Remembering dozens of different 14-character passwords isn’t realistic,” my colleague Katie Bindley wrote in 2018. “But coming up with only a few passwords – or just one – and reusing them is a terrible idea from a security standpoint. It might be time to consider a password manager.”)

🎵 4) provides ambient sounds the company says are engineered to help you focus. I use the app (and website, when on a computer) to drown out distractions while I’m working.

(Similarly, I also love the Environments app for groovy soundscapes. These are recordings made by sound recordist Irv Teibel and released as LPs in the 1960s and 1970s. They include sounds of a be-in, an aviary, a “psychologically ultimate seashore,” a cornfield in a summer, and more.)

📖 5) Instapaper is one of several read-it-later services – you activate it and it saves the text of a website or document you’re reading, then you can access it for perusal later. It’s great for long-form articles that you don’t want to read in a browser. People love Pocket, a rival service, but I haven’t tried it because Instapaper has proved reliable for me for years.

☕ 6) Coffee nerd alert: AeroPress Timer is a fun app for brushing up on my favorite brewing method’s various recipes. I prefer the classic recipe (boring, I know!) but sometimes experiment with new ones, like inverted techniques.

🎙 7) For recording interviews, I typically use one of several trusty Olympus recorders I have owned over the years. But just in case that method fails, I’ll often record simultaneously on my phone. For that I use the app app, which provides automatic transcriptions.

🏋️‍♂️ 8) Sadly I have not been in a gym for many months (thanks a lot, pandemic) but for barbell training I found an app called BarCalc that I really like. It provides a simple function: you input the weight plates you have at your disposal, enter the weight you want to put on the bar, and it shows you which plates to use. This is useful when you’re adding odd weight totals to bar.

🗣 9) If you want to know what’s lighting up Twitter, but don’t want to dive into the service itself, check out Nuzzel. You can view the links that people you follow have tweeted the most over the last 4 hours, 8 hours, 24 hours, etc.

📰 10) The Wall Street Journal app – of course! One feature I find indispensable for following stories by my colleagues is the ability to get alerts from the app when their pieces are published. I described how to do that in this post – basically, just click the plus sign after an author’s name when you see his or her byline on a story in the app. You’ve done that for my stories, haven’t you?!

What do you think of my picks? Did I miss any of your must-haves? Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter; I’m @Newley.

India Journalism Tech

Facebook’s WhatsApp Gets Green Light to Expand Mobile Payments in India

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

Regulators in India granted Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp permission to expand its digital payments service, a win for the company after a delay of nearly three years in its largest market by users.

The National Payments Corporation of India, or NPCI, said late Thursday that WhatsApp can bring the service to a maximum of 20 million users. That is up from the one million cap that has been in place since the encrypted messaging platform in February 2018 began offering payments via its app in a trial service, the first of its kind.

“I’m excited to share today that WhatsApp has been approved to launch payments across India,” Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a video provided Friday by the company. The service, which is free, enables users to connect their bank accounts to the app and easily send money to one another, just as if they were sending a typical chat.

Still, WhatsApp remains far from making the functionality available to all of its more than 400 million users in India. The NPCI said WhatsApp can start with a maximum of 20 million users—which would be about 5% of WhatsApp’s total user base in the country.

Click through to read the rest.


My Ten Favorite Podcasts

Adapted from an edition of my newsletter, Newley’s Notes, sent November 2, 2020. Image via C D-X on Unsplash.

Last week I shared my ten favorite email newsletters.

🎧 Now let’s turn to podcasts. Here are my faves:

💰 1) Conversations with Tyler – academic and author Tyler Cowen talks to extremely smart people. That’s pretty much it. The focus is nominally economics, but you don’t need to be an econ nerd to enjoy it.

😂 2) Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin. The great actor interviews creative types. His 2014 chat with Jerry Seinfeld was incredibly funny.

🎵 3) Desert Island Discs – What music would you bring with you to a desert island? A simple premise, an immensely enjoyable and moving show. Don’t miss Arsenal legend Ian Wright or documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux.

⚽ 4) For soccer news, I like Football Weekly, from The Guardian, featuring a well-informed and (mostly) lovable bunch of journalists…

🧤 5) …and Goalkeepers’ Union – former Watford and Brentford goalkeeper Richard Lee discusses all the week’s top GK news.

📰 6) The Journal – The Wall Street Journal’s daily podcast featuring the biggest stories and interviews with our reporters. (I was on last year talking tech in India, and in July discussing Hong Kong and U.S. tech titans.)

💪 7) The Peter Attia Drive – Longevity-focused physician Peter Attia talks to extremely sharp experts in the fields of medicine, psychology, fitness, sports and more.

📚 8) Asia Matters – my ex-WSJ colleague Andrew Peaple and my ex-Columbia University classmate Vincent Ni talk to journalists, academics, and others about news and politics throughout the region. (I joined last year to talk about India, China, and tech.)

🎸 9) Bob Dylan: Album By Album – here’s an unconventional one. Ben Burrell discusses the musical genius’s records, one by one.

🔨 10) Cool Tools: Renowned author and technologist Kevin Kelley and tech editor Mark Frauenfelder interview guests about the tools they find indispensable.

What do you think of my picks? Leave a comment or find me on Twitter; I’m @Newley.

India Journalism Tech

Facebook’s Top Public Policy Executive in India Steps Down

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

A Facebook Inc. executive in India who was at the center of a political storm over the company’s policy on anti-Muslim hate speech on the platform is leaving her position Tuesday, the social-media giant said.

Ankhi Das, Facebook’s top public-policy executive in its biggest market by users, said in an internal post provided by the company that she had decided to step down to pursue her interest in public service.

The Wall Street Journal reported in August that Ms. Das had opposed applying Facebook’s hate-speech rules to a politician from the ruling Hindu nationalist party, along with at least three other Hindu nationalist individuals and groups flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence, according to current and former employees.

Following the article’s publication, Indian lawmakers questioned Facebook officials, while the company’s staff pushed internally for a review of how it handles problematic content.

Click through to read the rest.


My 10 Favorite Email Newsletters

Adapted from an edition of my newsletter, Newley’s Notes, sent October 25, 2020. Image via Onlineprinters on Unsplash.

Email newsletters, as I’ve mentioned before, are a fantastic tool for keeping track of fast-breaking news — and man, has there been a lot of that recently — and being exposed to big ideas.

Here are ten of my favorites.

I like that most of these provide an individual’s voice, an interesting perspective, and highlight material I wouldn’t otherwise see:

📱 1) Benedict Evansweekly newsletter is a must-read if you care about tech. A longtime VC at famed Silicon Valley firm Andreessen Horowitz, he has deep knowledge of the history of tech and business; I appreciate his macro-level views especially.

🗯 2) Another excellent tech-focused newsletter is Azeem Azhar’s Exponential View. Tagline: a “weekly guide to the future.”

💻 3) On Tech, by the New York Times’s Shira Ovide, is a daily dispatch on technology happenings, ranging from tech’s collision with business and politics to cultural issues. A bonus: she concludes each email an item labeled “hugs to this” – a link to something special, often related to animal hi-jinx.

📕 4) One of my favorite websites all of time is Five Books. Academics, authors, and other experts in their fields recommend the five best books on particular topics. Brilliant, simple, and hugely useful. Their newsletter provides their most recent posts.

📖 5) Anne Trubek, author and founder of Cleveland-based independent publisher Belt Publishing, writes a newsletter called Notes from a Small Press. It’s full of details on the history of publishing and what it’s like to be a book publisher in 2020. (Longtime readers may recall that my first job out of college was working as an editorial assistant at Random House, and I remain interested in book publishing.)

✏️ 6)’s newsletter provides a summation of all the best long-form writing from the past week.

🗞 7) Matt Thomas’s Sunday New York Times Digest is just that: links to must-reads from each edition of the traditionally massive Sunday paper.

☔ 8) Lee Lefever, a digital business guru, is documenting in his newsletter Ready for Rain his move from Seattle to Orcas Island, where he and his wife are building a house. It’s full of meditations on lifestyle, tech, and, of course, homebuilding.

🥼 9) Peter Attia is a physician who focuses on topics such as longevity, nutrition, and athletic performance. His newsletter contains his most recent blog posts and alerts when a new episode of his (excellent) podcast is out.

🎨 10) …and last but not least, I got the idea for this week’s Newley’s Notes from artist and writer Austin Kleon, who did the same in this week’s edition of his newsletter, which is all about art, literature, music, and creativity. Since he wrote a popular book called “Steal Like an Artist,” I figured it was fitting to draw inspiration from him. 🙂

What did I miss? What are some of your favorites? Leave a comment or share this post on Twitter; I’m @Newley.

India Journalism Tech

Facebook, Under Pressure in India, Bans Politician for Hate Speech

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

Facebook Inc. banned a member of India’s ruling party for violating its policies against hate speech, amid a growing political storm over its handling of extremist content on its platform.

The removal of the politician, T. Raja Singh, is an about-face for the company and one that will be politically tricky in India, its biggest market by number of users.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Facebook’s head of public policy in the country, Ankhi Das, had opposed banning Mr. Singh under Facebook’s “dangerous individual” prohibitions. In communications to Facebook staffers, she said punishing violations by politicians from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party could hurt the company’s business interests in the country.

Click through to read the rest.

Hong Kong Journalism Newley's Notes Tech

NN226: Scoop — WhatsApp, Tech Giants Stand Firm in Hong Kong

Sent as an email newsletter (sign up here) Thurs., July 9.

👋 Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

This week’s NN is late. I’d meant to send it Monday evening, but then this happened. See image above.

🚨 I got the exclusive that WhatsApp – quickly followed by Facebook, then Twitter and Google – was suspending its processing of requests for user data from Hong Kong.

WhatsApp and its tech peers were prompted to do so by China’s imposition here in the city of a wide-ranging new national security law.

I’m proud to say we had the news for our subscribers before anyone else, and it was followed by outlets around the world.

🗞 The story also ran on the front page of Tuesday’s WSJ:

🎧 I was on our The Journal podcast to talk about the story (listen here), and I was also on our Tech News Briefing show (listen here).

The Journal podcast

For more on China, Hong Kong, and the new law, read on…

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

🇨🇳 1) What’s Hong Kong’s new national security law all about? “Experts say its provisions fundamentally alter the legal landscape in Hong Kong, carving out space within the city’s Western-style rule-of-law system for mainland Chinese methods of enforcing Communist Party control,” my colleague Chun Han Wong reports.

⏲️ 2) Things are happening fast here in HK, my colleague Dan Strumpf wrote in a story out Wednesday about the inauguration of a new home for China’s security agents:

“First the construction signs went up, then a flagpole appeared and police officers started to swarm the streets. Within hours, a skyscraper hotel in a cozy neighborhood of bars, apartments and boutiques was transformed into something new: the headquarters of Beijing’s powerful new security agency for the city.”

🧙‍♂️ 3) And in non-China/Hong Kong news: “How J. K. Rowling Became Voldemort”:

“Younger Millennials – those born around 1990, the same time as Harry Potter’s lead actors Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson – feel just as strongly about transgender rights. To many of them, it is the social-justice cause, their generation’s revolutionary idea.”

✍️ 4) “In an era that fetishizes form,” Joyce Carol Oates “has become America’s preëminent fiction writer by doing everything you’re not supposed to do.”

🚷 5) A Japanese city has passed a draft ordinance aimed at stopping people from using their smartphones while walking.

💬 6) Social media first brought about “context collapse” (people talk to everyone all at once, rather than distinct people or groups), and now, writes Nicolas Carr, it has created something more serious: “content collapse.” “A presidential candidate’s policy announcement is given equal weight to a snapshot of your niece’s hamster and a video of the latest Kardashian contouring,” he says.

⏳ 7) Shot: “Back to the Future” was released 35 years ago last week. Here are 30 facts about the great film, one of which – you’re telling me they started filming with Eric Stoltz instead of Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly?! – I find mind-blowing.

🎹 8) Chaser: The Nostalgia Machine is a website where you enter a year, click a button, and jam to some sweet tunes from yesteryear.

✏️ 9) Gary Larson, creator of “The Far Side,” has started cartooning again (this time on a tablet).

🐶 10) Dog-related video of the week: You rang? (Thanks, Anasuya!)


💡 Quote of the week:

“If your choices are beautiful, so too will you be.” – Epictetus


🤗 What’s new with you? Hit reply to send me tips, queries, random comments, and videos of adorably attentive pups.

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,