WhatsApp delays enforcement of privacy terms by 3 months, following backlash

WhatsApp said on Friday that it won’t enforce its new data-sharing policy until May 15, weeks after news about the new terms created confusion among its users, exposed the Facebook-app to a potential lawsuit, launched a nationwide investigation, and drove a lot of its loyal fans to explore alternative messaging apps.

“We’re now moving back the date on which people will be asked to review and accept the terms. No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8. We’re also going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp. We’ll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15,” the firm said in a blog post.

The messaging app, which serves more than two billion users, said it was delaying the enforcement of the new terms, which it first unveiled last year, over “confusion” it has created worldwide. The delay of the planned privacy update is aimed at providing users with more time to review the terms, the company said.

“We’ve heard from so many people how much confusion there is around our recent update. There’s been a lot of misinformation causing concern and we want to help everyone understand our principles and the facts,” said the company, which earlier this week ran full-page ads on several Indian newspapers.

Through an in-app alert, WhatsApp had asked users earlier this month to agree to new terms of conditions that grants the app the consent to share with Facebook some personal data about them, such as their phone number and location. Users will have to agree to these terms by February 8 if they wish to continue using the app, the alert said. The change has been mischaracterized by many as their personal communication being compromised, which WhatsApp also clarified this week was not the case.

WhatsApp, which Facebook bought for $19 billion in 2014, has been sharing some limited information about its users with Facebook.

“With these updates, none of that is changing. Instead, the update includes new options people will have to message a business on WhatsApp, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data. While not everyone shops with a business on WhatsApp today, we think that more people will choose to do so in the future and it’s important people are aware of these services. This update does not expand our ability to share data with Facebook,” WhatsApp wrote today.

Following the backlash, tens of millions of confused and angered users flocked to Signal and Telegram. In an interview with TechCrunch earlier this week, Signal co-founder and chairman executive Brian Acton said “the smallest of events helped trigger the largest of outcomes. We’re also excited that we are having conversations about online privacy and digital safety and people are turning to Signal as the answer to those questions.”

More to follow…

WhatsApp faces legal challenge over privacy in its biggest market

WhatsApp is facing a legal challenge in India, its biggest market, after a petition was filed Thursday before Delhi High Court over the upcoming change in the Facebook-owned app’s data sharing policy.

The petition alleges the new terms that WhatsApp requires its roughly 450 million users in the country to accept is a violation of their fundamental rights to privacy and poses a threat to national security.

Through an in-app alert, WhatsApp has asked users in recent days to agree to new terms of conditions that grants the app the consent to share some personal data about them such as their phone number and location with Facebook.

Users will have to agree to these terms by February 8 if they wish to continue using the app, the alert said. The change has been mischaracterized by many as their personal communication being compromised, which WhatsApp clarified this week was not the case.

The Facebook-owned service, which serves over 2 billion users worldwide, said private conversations between people remain just as private as before. Facebook has also bought front-page newspaper ads in several leading Indian dailies this week to explain the change, which it first outlined last year.

The petitioner said the new terms grant WhatsApp a “360-degree profile into a person’s online activity” without any “government oversight.”

“WhatsApp has made a mockery out of our fundamental right to privacy while discharging a public function in India, besides jeopardizing the National Security of the country by sharing, transmitting and storing the users data in some [other] country and that data, in turn, will be governed by the laws of that foreign country,” the petition, which is expected to be heard Friday, reads.

Several high-profile startup founders and executives in India have also criticized WhatsApp’s new data sharing policy. Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and chief executive of India’s most valuable startup Paytm, accused WhatsApp of operating with double standards, pointing to how the new change was not affecting the app’s users in Europe.

The outrage over the new change has resulted in tens of millions of users exploring other communication apps such as Signal and Telegram in recent days. In an interview with TechCrunch earlier this week, Signal co-founder and chairman executive Brian Acton said “the smallest of events helped trigger the largest of outcomes. We’re also excited that we are having conversations about online privacy and digital safety and people are turning to Signal as the answer to those questions.”

Google cracks down on personal loan apps in India following abuse and outcry

Google said on Thursday it has pulled some personal loan apps from Play Store in India and was implementing stronger measures to prevent abuse following reports that said several firms were targeting vulnerable borrowers in the country and then going to extreme lengths to recover their money.

The Android-maker said users and government agencies in India recently flagged several personal loan apps and the company reviewed hundreds of them. The review found an identified number of apps violated Play Store’s safety policies and were immediately removed from the Store.

Google said it has asked the developers of the remaining identified apps to demonstrate that their apps are in compliance with applicable local laws and regulations. “Apps that fail to do so will be removed without further notice. In addition, we will continue to assist the law enforcement agencies in their investigation of this issue,” the company said.

Users have identified several lending apps including 10MinuteLoan and Ex-Money in India in recent months that granted small ticket loans (typically in the range of $100 to $200) to people for short tenures without much verification to determine their eligibility and then charged steep processing fees.

To avoid such abuse, Google said Play Store will only allow personal apps that require customers to make their repayment in 60 days or longer.

When borrowers struggled to repay their debt in the short period, collection agents on behalf of some lending apps threatened to embarrass them in front of their friends, colleagues, and family, among other tactics. In November, local newspaper Indian Express reported that a 23-year-old man committed suicide after being bullied by a money lending app.

 

“To protect user privacy, developers must only request permissions that are necessary to implement current features or services. They should not use permissions that give access to user or device data for undisclosed, unimplemented, or disallowed features or purposes. Developers must also only use data for purposes that the user has consented to, and if they later want to use the data for other purposes, they must obtain user permission for the additional uses,” wrote Suzanne Frey, Vice President, Product, Android Security and Privacy, in a blog post.

More to follow…

Amazon launches mobile-only Prime Video subscription in India

Amazon is doubling down on one of the biggest strengths of Prime Video streaming service: Aggressive pricing.

The e-commerce giant on Wednesday launched Prime Video Mobile Edition, an even more affordable tier of the on-demand video streaming service — now also bundling additional perks.

Prime Video Mobile Edition, for which Amazon has partnered with Indian telecom network Airtel, will feature 28-day mobile-only, single-user, standard definition (SD) access to customers in India for Rs 89 ($1.22). This tier will also include 6GB of mobile data that customers can consume during the subscription period. To anyone who subscribes to Prime Video Mobile Edition, Amazon says it will pick the tab for the first month.

Amazon Prime subscription costs $1.7 a month in India and includes access to Prime Video and Prime Music.

The new Prime Video plan is currently only available in India. Its launch comes two years after Netflix unveiled a similar plan in India.

Affordable pricing is key for on-demand steaming services that are looking to make inroads in India, the world’s second largest internet market. Even as more than 700 million users are online in the country today, only a fraction of them currently pay to access digital subscriptions. In a recent report to clients, analysts at Goldman Sachs estimated that gaming, and video streaming market in India could clock as much as $5 billion in gross value transactions by FY25.

“India is one of our fastest growing territories in the world with very high engagement rates. Buoyed by this response, we want to double-down by offering our much-loved entertainment content to an even larger base of Indian customers. Given high mobile broadband penetration in the country, the mobile phone has become one of the most widely used streaming devices,” said Jay Marine, Vice President, Amazon Prime Video Worldwide, in a statement.

Airtel is the first roll-out partner for Prime Video Mobile Edition, and it suggested that it may tie up with other telecom giants as it looks forward to “expanding the reach of our service to the entire pre-paid customer base in India,” said Sameer Batra, Director, Mobile Business Development at Amazon. No word on when or whether Amazon plans to extend Prime Video Mobile Edition outside of India.

More to follow…

Amazon makes education push in India with JEE preparation app

Amazon on Wednesday launched Amazon Academy, a service that will aim to help students in India prepare for entry into the nation’s prestigious engineering colleges. The American firm is the latest entrant to this market where scores of startups and institutes have launched digital offerings in recent years.

The e-commerce giant, which has invested more than $6.5 billion in the world’s second largest internet market, said Amazon Academy offers curated learning material, live lectures, mock tests, and comprehensive assessments to help students learn and practice Math, Physics and Chemistry and prepare for the Joint Entrance Examinations (JEE), a government-backed engineering entrance assessment conducted in India for admission to various engineering colleges in the country. About two million students take JEE test each year.

Tests offered on Amazon Academy are “designed to mirror the JEE experience helping students understand the nuances of the examination. Students will also benefit from shortcuts, mnemonics, tips, and tricks, equipping them with the necessary tools to retain concepts and solve questions effectively,” the company said in a press note.

Amazon began testing Amazon Academy, previously known as JEE Ready, in India in mid-2019. Amazon Academy, available via its website and as an app for Android and iOS, is free and will remain so for the “next few months,” the company said.

More than 260 million children go to school in India and much of the population sees education as a key to economic progress and a better life. TechCrunch reported last month that Amazon was also looking to hire executives in India to launch Amazon Future Engineer, a program through which it aims to bring computer science education to underserved and underrepresented children and young adults, in India by this year.

“Amazon Academy aims to bring high quality, affordable education to all, starting with those preparing for engineering entrance examinations. Our mission is to help students achieve their outcomes while also empowering educators and content partners reach millions of students. Our primary focus has been on content quality, deep learning analytics and student experience. This launch will help engineering aspirants prepare better and achieve the winning edge in JEE,” said Amol Gurwara, Director, Education at Amazon India, in a statement.

Amazon’s global rivals, Facebook and Google, have also made push in India’s education market in recent years. Last year, Facebook partnered with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), a government body that oversees education in private and public schools in India, to launch a certified curriculum on digital safety and online well-being, and augmented reality for students and educators.

Facebook also invested in Unacademy, a Bangalore-based startup that offers online learning classes. Google, which invested in Indian edtech startup Cuemath, also partnered with CBSE to train more than 1 million teachers in India and offer a range of free tools such as G Suite for Education, Google Classroom and YouTube to help digitize the education experience in the nation.

India’s top edtech startups — Byju’s, Unacademy, and Vedantu — also offer students classes to prepare for JEE test. Last year, these startups onboarded tens of millions of students to their platforms after the coronavirus outbreak prompted New Delhi to shut down schools across the nation. Byju’s, which became the world’s most valuable edtech startup last year, is in talks to buy decades-old Aakash Educational Services Aakash Educational Services, which owns and operates more than 200 physical tutoring centres across the country aimed at students preparing to qualify for top engineering and medical colleges, for $1 billion, Bloomberg reported this week.

Signal’s Brian Acton talks about exploding growth, monetization and WhatsApp data-sharing outrage

Brian Acton is crossing paths again with Facebook. Over more than a decade of building and operating WhatsApp, the company’s co-founder first competed against and then sold his instant messaging app to the social juggernaut. Only a few years ago he parted ways with the company that made him a billionaire in a bitter split over messaging and privacy.

Now Acton says the ongoing outrage over what Facebook has done to the messaging service he helped build is driving people to his latest project — Signal. Acton, who serves as the executive chairman of the privacy-conscious messaging app’s holding company, told TechCrunch in an interview that the user base of Signal has “exploded” in recent weeks.

“The smallest of events helped trigger the largest of outcomes,” said Acton on a video call. “We’re also excited that we are having conversations about online privacy and digital safety and people are turning to Signal as the answer to those questions.”

“It’s a great opportunity for Signal to shine and to give people a choice and alternative. It was a slow burn for three years and then a huge explosion. Now the rocket is going,” he said.

The event Acton is referring to is the recent change in data-sharing policy disclosed by WhatsApp, an app that serves more than 2 billion users worldwide.

Through an in-app alert, WhatsApp has asked users in recent days to agree to new terms of conditions that grants the app the consent to share their personal data with Facebook. Users will have to agree to these terms by February 8 if they wish to continue using the app, the alert said.

Acton said WhatsApp is grappling with incorporating monetization features while still protecting people’s privacy. And its new “complicated policy” has forced WhatsApp and the media to scramble for explanations and “everyone is confused.”

Acton did not disclose how many users Signal has amassed in recent weeks, but he said the app currently ranks at the top on App Store in 40 countries and on Google Play Store in 18 countries. (Signal is not the only app that users have explored in recent days as their new home. Telegram said on Tuesday noon that more than 25 million users had joined the platform in the last 72 hours. The app now has over 525 million monthly active users.)

According to mobile insight firm App Annie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch, Signal had about 20 million monthly active users globally at the end of December 2020. According to Sensor Tower, the app was downloaded more than 7.5 million times between January 6 and January 10.

Since its inception in 2018, Signal has promised that it won’t sell its users’ data and that it won’t show its users ads. In 2018, Acton invested $50 million in Signal Foundation, a check that he said helped get the ball rolling. But how does the messaging app plan to stay afloat in the future?

Signal today also relies on donations to bankroll the business — and more users mean more donors, he said. “If Signal gets to a billion users, that’s a billion donors. All we have to do is get you so excited about Signal that you want to give us a dollar or 50 rupees. The idea is that we want to earn that donation. The only way to earn that donation is building an innovative and delightful product. That’s a better relationship in my opinion,” he said.

Acton said this model has worked for the business, which keeps a small staff of below 50. Between its frugal spending and the foundation’s largesse, Signal still has some money in the bank.

Signal Foundation has also previously said that messenger is its first product, and like Mozilla and Wikimedia Foundation, it intends to expand to more categories. Acton said in the coming years, the team will take a call on whether they want to work on email and storage products, but he said the current focus remains on the messaging app.

Even as Acton has publicly urged users to get off Facebook, in our conversation he did not suggest that people should stop using WhatsApp. On the contrary, Acton said he envisions people relying on Signal for conversations with their family and close friends, and using WhatsApp for other chats. “I have no desire to do all the things that WhatsApp does. My desire is to give people a choice,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re locked into something where you have no choice. It’s not strictly a winner take-all scenario.”

One of the criticisms that WhatsApp often receives is that it does not do enough to curb the spread of false information on its platform, which has resulted in real-life casualties. I asked Acton what Signal, which also protects its users’ conversations with end-to-end encryption, would do if people started to use his app for a similar purpose. Acton said it’s a difficult challenge and while technology and platform have their own share of responsibilities, they can only do so much especially when you can’t look at the content of the conversation.

“You should be teaching your children good digital responsibility. Don’t just immediately take the information that you get. Understand its source. Understand who are trusted sources. As a society, teach every member how it works,” he said, pointing to earlier days of the internet when email scams were rampant and with time and education people learned how to identify them.

Byju’s is reportedly buying Indian brick-and-mortar institute Aakash for $1 billion

We may finally have an answer to why Byju’s, the world’s most valuable edtech startup, spent the last year raising hundreds of millions of dollars.

Bloomberg reports that the Bangalore-based startup has agreed to buy Aakash Educational Services, which owns and operates more than 200 physical tutoring centres across the country aimed at students preparing to qualify for top engineering and medical colleges.

According to the publication, Byju’s will pay $1 billion to buy Aakash Educational Services, which serves more than 250,000 students. A Byju’s spokesperson declined to comment.

Byju’s has raised over $800 million in the past two years, and more than doubled its valuation to over $11 billion. The startup, like several other edtech firms, attracted tens of millions of students to its platform last year after the pandemic prompted New Delhi to shut down schools nationwide.

Byju’s prepares students pursuing undergraduate and graduate-level courses, and in recent years has also expanded its catalog to serve all school-going students. Tutors on Byju’s app tackle complex subjects using real-life objects such as pizza and cake. The startup, which turned profitable in late 2019, serves over 70 million students.

In an interview at TechCrunch Disrupt last year, Byju’s co-founder and chief executive Byju Raveendran said the startup, which acquired a coding platform aimed at young students called WhiteHat Jr for $300 million last year, was open to more merger and acquisition opportunities.

The startup is backed by several high-profile investors, including Bond, which was co-founded by Mary Meeker. Bond expects Byju’s to be worth over $30 billion within three years, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch earlier.

YouTube and WhatsApp inch closer to half a billion users in India

WhatsApp has enjoyed unrivaled reach in India for years. By mid-2019, the Facebook-owned app had amassed over 400 million users in the country. Its closest app rival at the time was YouTube, which, according to the company’s own statement and data from mobile insight firm App Annie, had about 260 million users in India then.

Things have changed dramatically since.

In the month of December, YouTube had 425 million monthly active users on Android phones and tablets in India, according to App Annie, the data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. In comparison, WhatsApp had 422 million monthly active users on Android in India last month.

Factoring in the traction both these apps have garnered on iOS devices, WhatsApp still assumes a lead in India with 459 million active users1, but YouTube is not too far behind with 452 million users.

With China keeping its doors closed to U.S. tech giants, India emerged as the top market for Silicon Valley and Chinese companies looking to continue their growth in the last decade. India had about 50 million internet users in 2010, but it ended the decade with more than 600 million. Google and Facebook played their part to make this happen.

In the last four years, both Google and Facebook have invested in ways to bring the internet to people who are offline in India, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people. Google kickstarted a project to bring Wi-Fi to 400 railway stations in the country and planned to extend this program to other public places. Facebook launched Free Basics in India, and then — after the program was banned in the country — it launched Express Wi-Fi.

Both Google and Facebook, which identify India as their biggest market by users, have scaled down on their connectivity efforts in recent years after India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, took it upon himself to bring the country online. After he succeeded, both the companies bought multibillion-dollar stakes in his firm, Jio Platforms, which has amassed over 400 million subscribers.

Jio Platforms’ cut-rate mobile data tariff has allowed hundreds of millions of people in India, where much of the online user base was previously too conscious about how much data they spent on the internet, to consume, worry-free, hours of content on YouTube and other video platforms in recent years. This growth might explain why Google is doubling down on short-video apps.

The new figures shared with TechCrunch illustrate a number of other findings about the Indian market. Even as WhatsApp’s growth has slowed2 in India, it continues to enjoy an unprecedented loyalty among its users.

More than 95% of WhatsApp’s monthly active users in India use the app each day, and nearly its entire user base checks the app at least once a week. In comparison, three-fourths of YouTube’s monthly active users in India are also its daily active users.

The data also showed that Google’s eponymous app as well as Chrome — both of which, like YouTube, ship pre-installed3 on most Android smartphones — has also surpassed over 400 million monthly active users in India in recent months. Facebook’s app, in comparison, had about 325 million monthly active users in India last month.

When asked for comment, a Google spokesperson pointed TechCrunch to a report from Comscore last year, which estimated that YouTube had about 325 million monthly unique users in India in May 2020.

A separate report by research firm Media Partners Asia on Monday estimated that YouTube commanded 43% of the revenue generated in the online video market in India last year (about $1.4 billion). Disney+ Hotstar assumed 16% of the market, while Netflix had 14%.


1 For simplicity, I have not factored in the traction WhatsApp Business and YouTube Kids apps have received in India. WhatsApp and YouTube also maintain apps on KaiOS, which powers JioPhone feature handsets in India. At last count — which was a long time ago — more than 40 million JioPhone handsets had shipped in India. TechCrunch could not determine the inroads any app has made on this platform. Additionally, the figures of YouTube on Android (phones and tablets) and iOS (iPhone and iPad) will likely have an overlap. The same is not true of WhatsApp, which restricts one phone number to one account. So if I have WhatsApp installed on an iPhone with my primary phone number, I can’t use WhatsApp with the same number on an Android phone — at least not concurrently.
2 WhatsApp Business appears to be growing fine, having amassed over 50 million users in India. And some caveats from No. 1 also apply here.
3 Users still have to engage with the app for App Annie and other mobile insight firms to count them as active. So while pre-installing the app provides Google an unprecedented distribution, their apps still have to win over users.

Jumbotail raises $14.2 million for its wholesale marketplace in India

Jumbotail, an online wholesale marketplace for grocery and food items, said on Friday it has raised an additional $14.2 million as the Bangalore-based startup chases the opportunity to digitize neighborhood stores in the world’s second largest internet market.

The five-year-old startup said the new tranche of its Series B financing round was led by VII Ventures, with participation from Nutresa, Veronorte, Jumbofund, Klinkert Investment Trust, Peter Crosby Trust, Nexus Venture Partners, and Discovery Ventures.

The startup told TechCrunch that the new tranche concludes its Series B round, which it kickstarted in 2019 with $12.7 million in funding. It ended up raising about $44 million in the Series B round (including Friday’s tranche), and to date has amassed about $54 million in equity investment, the startup told the publication.

Jumbotail said it serves over 30,000 neighborhood stores (popularly known in India as kiranas) in the country. In addition to its business-to-business marketplace, the startup also provides working capital to neighborhood stores through partnerships with financial institutions.

The startup, which has built its own supply chain network to enable last-mile delivery, also supplies these stores with point-of-sale devices so that they can easily get access to a much wider selection of catalog and have the new inventory shipped to them within two days. It also integrates these stores with hyperlocal delivery startups such as Dunzo and Swiggy to help mom and pop shops further expand their customer base.

Ashish Jhina, co-founder of Jumbotail, said he believes the startup has reached an inflection point in its growth and is now ready for its next chapter, which includes hiring top talent and expanding to more regions in the country, especially in several cities in South India.

“We are seeing tremendous interest from investors across the globe who are drawn to our highly scalable and operationally profitable business model, built on the industry’s best technology and customer NPS,” said Jhina, who previously served in Indian army and then worked at e-commerce firms eBay and Flipkart.

At a recent virtual conference, Jhina said that the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted New Delhi to order a nationwide lockdown and put restrictions on e-commerce firms, has illustrated just how crucial neighborhood stores are in people’s lives. And for all the ills that the virus has wrought to the world, it did help accelerate the adoption of technology among these stores.

A number of food brands whose products neighborhood stores sell today are not standardized, which poses a question about their quality. To fill this gap, Jumbotail runs its own private label portfolio and Jhina said the startup will deploy part of the fresh fund to broaden this catalog. Having private label also allows Jumbotail to ensure that its retail partners can get the supply of items throughout the year — and of course, it also helps the startup, which has been operationally profitable for nearly three quarters, improve its margin.

There are more than 30 million neighborhood stores in India that dot across the thousands of cities and towns in the country. These small businesses have been around for decades and survived — and even thrived — despite e-commerce giants pouring billions of dollars in India to change how people shop. In recent years, scores of startups — and giants — in India have begun to explore ways to work with these neighborhood stores.

One of them is India’s largest retail chain Reliance Retail, which serves more than 3.5 million customers each week through its nearly 10,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns in the country. In late 2019, it entered the e-commerce space with JioMart through a joint venture with sister subsidiary telecom giant Jio Platforms. By mid last year, JioMart had expanded to over 200 Indian cities and towns — though currently its reach within those cities and customer service leave a lot to be desired.

Reliance Retail also maintains a partnership with Facebook for WhatsApp integrationFacebook, which invested $5.7 billion in Jio Platforms last year, has said that it will explore various ways to work with Reliance to digitize the nation’s mom and pop stores, as well as other small- and medium-sized businesses.

For JioMart, Reliance Retail is working with neighborhood shops, giving them a digital point-of-sale machine to make it easier for them to accept money electronically. It is also allowing these shops to buy their inventory from Reliance Retail, and then use their physical presence as delivery points. At present, the platform is largely focused on grocery delivery. In a recent report to clients, Goldman Sachs analysts estimated that Reliance could become the largest player in online grocery within three years.

US says India, Italy, and Turkey digital taxes are discriminatory, but won’t take any actions for now

Digital services taxes adopted by India, Italy, and Turkey in the past years discriminate against U.S. companies, the U.S. Trade Representative said on Wednesday.

USTR, which began investigations into the three nation’s digital services taxes in June last year, said it found them to be inconsistent with international tax principles, unreasonable, and burdening or restricting U.S. commerce.

In its detailed reports, which the office has made public, USTR studied how these digital taxes affected companies including Amazon, Google, Facebook, Airbnb, and Twitter. USTR said it conducted these investigations on the ground of Section 301 of the U.S. Trade Act of 1974.

India, which has become the largest market for Silicon Valley giants Google and Facebook, introduced digital taxes in 2016 to target foreign firms. Last year, the world’s second largest internet market expanded the scope of its levy to cover a range of additional categories.

USTR investigation found (PDF) that New Delhi was taxing “numerous categories of digital services that are not leviable under other digital services taxes adopted around the world” and that the aggregate tax bill for U.S. companies could exceed $30 million per year.  It also took issue with India not levying similar taxes on local companies.

Despite the strong findings on three nations’ digital services taxes, USTR said it is not taking any specific actions “at this time” but will “continue to evaluate all available options.”

U.S. tech companies have in the past supported terms brokered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. But OECD, which is currently in the middle of working out technical details for agreements for over a 100 nations, doesn’t expect to finish the work until mid-2021. In the absence of OECD agreements, various countries are moving forward with their own versions of the taxes.

Since June last year, USTR has initiated investigations into digital services tax instituted — or proposed to be put in place – by a number of countries including Austria, Brazil, the Czech Republic, the European Union, Indonesia, Spain, the United Kingdom, and France, which resumed collecting digital services tax from US companies late last year.

In retaliation, USTR had set a January 6 deadline for levying a 25% tariff on a range of French imported goods including cosmetics and handbags.

USTR did not say whether the tariff had been enforced, but in a statement said it expects to announce the progress or completion of additional investigations in the near future.