Dara Khusrowshahi says Uber remains committed to India but offers no concrete plans

Uber said on Tuesday that it has won a bid to work with subway system in India’s capital in one of its rare announcements in India, a key overseas market where it is facing an upheaval battle with local giant Ola.

The ride-hailing giant said it has partnered with Delhi Metro Rail Corporation to deploy parking spots and introduce new products at 210 subway stations in Delhi, Gurgaon, and Noida. Neither of the parties offered a clarification on how many years it would take for these deployments to materialize.

The company has also started to roll out a software update to its app to include real-time public transportation options from within the Uber app. It’s the same feature — which is limited to offering details such as navigation data — that Uber introduced in several markets in recent months as it attempts to make Uber app “an operating system” for a user’s every transportation need.

But the company, which has retreated some of its businesses in India, had nothing more concrete to say. CEO Dara Khusrowshahi said onstage that Uber was “here to stay in India” — a familiar promise that he made in Southeast Asia early last year before selling the local business to Grab a month later — but avoided a question about future of UberEats, the ride-hailing firm’s food delivery option.

In recent months, many restaurants have ceased their tie-up with UberEats, and the company has lowered the discounts it was bandying out to compete with local rivals Swiggy and Zomato .

UberEats has lost more than a third of its business in India in recent months, industry sources told TechCrunch. Last year, Uber held talks with both Swiggy and Zomato to sell its UberEats business in the country but failed to attract any meaningful offer, people familiar with the talks said.

Bhavik Rathod, UberEats’ India and Southeast Asia head, Deepak Reddy, head of central operations for UberEats in India, and several more executives have resigned in recent weeks, people familiar with the matter said. Uber’s spokespeople have not returned TechCrunch’s emails since last month.

At the event today, Uber executives miserably escaped questions surrounding UberEats’ future in India. Uber’s local rival Ola, which leads the market, is increasingly expanding its footprint in the nation. In an interview in 2017, Khusrowshahi said India was one of the key regions where the company planned to invest heavily.

India moves closer to regulating internet services as it fears ‘unimaginable disruption to democracy’

India said on Monday that it is moving ahead with its plan to revise existing rules to regulate intermediaries — social media apps and others that rely on users to create their content — as they are causing “unimaginable disruption” to democracy.

In a legal document filed with the country’s apex Supreme Court, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said it would formulate the rules to regulate intermediaries by January 15, 2020.

In the legal filing, the government department said the internet had “emerged as a potent tool to cause unimaginable disruption to the democratic polity.” Oversight of intermediaries, the ministry said, would help in addressing the “ever growing threats to individual rights and nation’s integrity, sovereignty and security.”

The Indian government published a draft of guidelines for consultation late last year. The proposed rules, which revise the 2011 laws, identified any service — social media or otherwise — that have more than 5 million users as intermediaries.

Government officials said at the time that modern rules were needed, otherwise circulation of false information and other misuse of internet platforms would continue to flourish.

The Monday filing comes as a response to an ongoing case in India filed by Facebook to prevent the government from forcing WhatsApp to introduce a system that would enable revealing the source of messages exchanged on the popular instant messaging platform, which counts India as its biggest market with more than 400 million users.

Some have suggested that social media platforms should require their users in India to link their accounts with Aadhaar — a government-issued, 12-digit biometric ID. More than 1.2 billion people in India have been enrolled in the system.

Facebook executives have argued that meeting such demands would require breaking the end-to-end encryption that WhatsApp users enjoy globally. The company executives have said that taking away the encryption would compromise the safety and privacy of its users. The Supreme Court will hear Facebook’s case on Tuesday.

India’s online population has ballooned in recent years. More than 600 million users in India are online today, according to industry estimates. The proliferation of low-cost Android handsets and access to low-cost mobile data in the nation have seen “more and more people in India become part of the internet and social media platforms.”

“On the one hand, technology has led to economic growth and societal development, on the other hand there has been an exponential rise in hate speech, fake news, public order, anti-national activities, defamatory postings, and other unlawful activities using Internet/social media platforms,” a lower court told the apex court earlier.

Is there room for a US equivalent to China’s No. 1 news app?

In China, Toutiao is literally big news.

Not only has its parent company ByteDance achieved a $75 billion valuation, two of its apps — Toutiao, a news aggregator, and Douyin (Tik Tok in China) — are chipping into WeChat’s user engagement numbers, no small feat considering the central role WeChat plays in the daily lives of the region’s smartphone users.

The success of Toutiao (its name means “headline”) prompts the question: why hasn’t one news aggregator app achieved similar success in the United States? There, users can pick from a roster of news apps, including Google News, Apple News (on iOS), Flipboard, Nuzzel and SmartNews, but no app is truly analogous to Toutiao, at least in terms of reach. Many readers still get news from Google Search (not the company’s news app) and when they do use an app for news, it’s Facebook.

The top social media platform continues to be a major source of news for many Americans, even as they express reservations about the reliability of the content they find there. According to research from Columbia Journalism Review, 43% of Americans use Facebook and other social media platforms to get news, but 57% said they “expect the news they see on those platforms to be largely inaccurate.” Regardless, they stick with Facebook because it’s timely, convenient and they can share content with friends and read other’s comments.

The social media platform is one of the main reasons why no single news aggregator app has won over American users the same way Toutiao has in China, but it’s not the only one. Other factors, including differences between how the Internet developed in each country, also play a role, says Ruiwan Xu, the founder and CEO of CareerTu, an online education platform that focuses on data analytics, digital marketing and research.

While Americans first encountered the Internet on PCs and then shifted to mobile devices, many people in China first went online through their smartphones and the majority of the country’s 800 million Internet users access it through mobile. This makes them much more open to consuming content — including news and streaming video — on mobile.

Is there room for a US equivalent to China’s No. 1 news app?

In China, Toutiao is literally big news.

Not only has its parent company ByteDance achieved a $75 billion valuation, two of its apps — Toutiao, a news aggregator, and Douyin (Tik Tok in China) — are chipping into WeChat’s user engagement numbers, no small feat considering the central role WeChat plays in the daily lives of the region’s smartphone users.

The success of Toutiao (its name means “headline”) prompts the question: why hasn’t one news aggregator app achieved similar success in the United States? There, users can pick from a roster of news apps, including Google News, Apple News (on iOS), Flipboard, Nuzzel and SmartNews, but no app is truly analogous to Toutiao, at least in terms of reach. Many readers still get news from Google Search (not the company’s news app) and when they do use an app for news, it’s Facebook.

The top social media platform continues to be a major source of news for many Americans, even as they express reservations about the reliability of the content they find there. According to research from Columbia Journalism Review, 43% of Americans use Facebook and other social media platforms to get news, but 57% said they “expect the news they see on those platforms to be largely inaccurate.” Regardless, they stick with Facebook because it’s timely, convenient and they can share content with friends and read other’s comments.

The social media platform is one of the main reasons why no single news aggregator app has won over American users the same way Toutiao has in China, but it’s not the only one. Other factors, including differences between how the Internet developed in each country, also play a role, says Ruiwan Xu, the founder and CEO of CareerTu, an online education platform that focuses on data analytics, digital marketing and research.

While Americans first encountered the Internet on PCs and then shifted to mobile devices, many people in China first went online through their smartphones and the majority of the country’s 800 million Internet users access it through mobile. This makes them much more open to consuming content — including news and streaming video — on mobile.

Gojek founder and CEO Nadiem Makarim resigns to join Indonesian cabinet; Soelistyo and Aluwi to be new co-CEOs

Nadiem Makarim, founder and CEO of Gojek, said on Monday he has stepped down from his role at the ride-hailing startup to join Indonesia president Joko Widodo’s cabinet.

The announcement, which has taken many by surprise, comes a day after Widodo was sworn in for a second term. Widodo has previously said that he wants young business executives to join his cabinet.

In a statement, a Gojek spokesperson told TechCrunch that Andre Soelistyo, Gojek Group President and Kevin Aluwi, Gojek co-founder, are taking over as co-CEOs of the startup.

“We are very proud that our founder will play such a significant role in moving Indonesia onto the global stage. It is unprecedented for a passionate local founder’s vision to be recognized as a model that can be up-scaled to help the development of an entire country,” the spokesperson said.

“We have planned for this possibility and there will be no disruption to our business. We will make an announcement on what this news means for Gojek within the next few days. We respect the process set out by the President and will not make a further comment until there is an official announcement from the Palace,” the spokesperson added.

Makarim (pictured above) said he was honored that the president had asked him to join his cabinet as a minister. He did not reveal which position he would hold, but an announcement from Widodo is expected later this week. “I am very happy to be here today as it shows we are ready for innovation and to move forward,” he told reporters.

Makarim founded Gojek in 2010 as a two-wheeler hailing service. The startup has since expanded to include a range of services including mobile payments, food delivery, online shopping and most recently on-demand video streaming.

The startup has amassed more than 2 million driver partners and 400,000 merchants on its platform. Gojek was valued at almost $10 billion in its most recent financing round. The company, which operates in Singapore, Vietnam, and Thailand, clocked gross transactions worth $9 billion last year.

Makarim comes from a prominent Indonesian family: His parents are anti-corruption activists, while his grandfather is an independence hero.

China Roundup: Tencent’s NBA test, TikTok parent deepens education push

Welcome to TechCrunch’s China roundup, a digest of events that happened at major Chinese tech companies and what they mean to tech founders and executives around the world.

The talk about U.S.-China relationships over the past two weeks has centered heavily on the NBA controversy, which has put the interest of some of China’s largest tech firms at stake. Last week, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey voiced support for Hong Kong protests in his since-deleted tweet, angering China’s NBA fans and prompting a raft of local tech companies to sever ties with the league. But some businesses seem to be back on track.

Tencent, which is famous for a slew of internet products, including WeChat and its Netflix-like video service, has been NBA’s exclusive streaming partner since 2009 and recently renewed the deal through the 2024-25 season. As many as 490 million fans in China watched NBA programming through Tencent in just one season this year, the pair claims.

The basketball games are clearly a driver of ad revenue and subscribers for Tencent amid fierce competition in China’s video streaming market, but following Morey’s statement, the company swiftly announced (in Chinese) it would suspend portions of its broadcast arrangements with the NBA. Popular smartphone brand Vivo and Starbucks’s local challenger Luckin also promised to pause collaboration with the NBA.

It was a tough call for businesses having to choose between economic interest and patriotism, and Tencent was tactful in its response, pledging only to “temporarily” halt the streaming of NBA “preseason games (China).” As public anger subsided over the week, Tencent resumed airing NBA preseason games on Monday. After all, the content partnership reportedly cost Tencent a heavy sum of $1.5 billion.

Entertainment giant turns to education

tiktok edutok

TikTok is probably the Chinese Internet service being most closely watched by the world at the moment. Its parent firm ByteDance, last reportedly valued at $75 billion, has ambitions beyond short videos.

This week, more details emerged on the upstart’s education endeavors through a WeChat post by Musical.ly founder Lulu Yang, whose short-video startup was acquired by ByteDance and subsequently merged with TikTok. Yang confirmed he was helping ByteDance to develop an education device in collaboration with phone maker Smartisan’s former hardware team, which ByteDance has absorbed. The product, which leverages ByteDance’s artificial intelligence capabilities, will be a “robotic learning companion” for K-12 students to use at home.

The news arrived in the same week that ByteDance’s flagship video app TikTok announced producing educational content for India, where it’s used by 200 million people every month. The move is designed to assuage local officials who have vehemently slammed TikTok for hosting illicit content, as my colleague Manish Singh pointed out.

Diving into education appears to be a sensible move for ByteDance to build relationships with local authorities, which can at times find its entertainment-focused content problematic. The multi-billion-dollar online education industry is also highly lucrative. ByteDance, with 1.5 billion daily users across TikTok, Douyin (TikTok for China), Toutiao news aggregator and other new media apps, is in a good position to monetize the enormous base by touting new services, whether they are educational content or mobile games.

Also worth your time

  • A total of 53 major video streaming services in China have introduced a “safe mode” for teenagers as of this week, state media reported (in Chinese). During the controls mode, underage users won’t be able to search for content, send real-time comments or private messages, upload or share videos, or reward live streaming hosts with virtual gifts. It’s part of China’s national effort to protect young people from consuming harmful digital content and internet addiction, which has also spawned age checks processes in Tencent games. 
  • Xiaohongshu, a fast-growing social commerce app in China, is back in Android app stores nearly three months after it was banned by the government for undisclosed reasons. Rumors had it that the service, which was reportedly valued at more than $2.5 billion last year, was used to spread pornography and fake reviews. It’s hardly the first tech company hit by media regulation, and it can probably learn a thing or two from ByteDance, which has aggressively ramped up its content moderation force following a sequence of crackdowns by the government.
  • Meituan will partner with 1,000 vocational schools in the country to train as many as 100 million workers from the service industry over the next ten years, the Hong Kong-listed company announced (in Chinese) this week. Food delivery makes up the bulk of the on-demand services giant’s business but its footprint spans a wide range. The classes it provides to prepare workers for a digital era will also touch upon skincare, hair styling, manicure, plastic surgery, hospitality and parenting, a program highlighting the extensive reach of technology into Chinese people’s every life.
  • Chinese workers turn out to be big advocates for the application of AI. According to a survey by Oracle and research firm Future Workplace, workers in India (60 percent) and China (56 percent) are the most excited about AI. Japan, where the labor force is shrinking, ranks surprisingly low (25 percent), and the U.S. has an equally mild reaction (22 percent) toward the technology.

Japan will participate in NASA’s Lunar Gateway project for the Artemis program

Japan has officially announced that it will participate with NASA’s Lunar Gateway project (via NHK), which will seek to establish an orbital research and staging station around the Moon. The Lunar Gateway is a key component of NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to land the first American woman and the next American man on the surface of the Moon by 2024.

Japan’s involvement was confirmed on Friday at a meeting of the country’s Strategic Headquarters for National Space Policy, at which Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was present. The governing body accepted a recommendation from a panel established to study the possibility that Japan should indeed join NASA’s efforts.

Working with NASA on its Lunar Gateway will serve to benefit Japan in a few ways, the panel determined, including by boosting its profile as a technology leader and by strengthening U.S.-Japan relations when it comes to ensuring space is a place where international collaboration on peaceful ventures and research can take place.

Further details about how Japan will participate aren’t yet available, which makes sense given this decision has only just been made. Japanese lunar exploration startup ispace welcomed the news, and anticipates possibly being able to contribute in some capacity, specifically via the partnership it announced with Draper earlier this year.

“We welcome this development with great optimism for the future of lunar exploration, as well as the relationship between Japan and the United States,” said Takeshi Hakamada, Founder & CEO of ispace in an emailed statement. “We firmly believe the Draper-ispace partnership can complement the US-Japan efforts for a sustainable return to the Moon at the commercial level.”

MyGate raises $56M to bring its security management service to more gated communities in India

MyGate, a Bangalore-based startup that offers security management and convenience service for guard-gated premises, said today it has bagged more than $50 million in a new financing round as it looks to expand its footprint in the nation.

Chinese internet giant Tencent, Tiger Global, JS Capital and existing investor Prime Venture Partners funded the three-year-old startup’s $56 million Series B financing round. The new round pushes MyGate’s total fundraise to $67.5 million.

MyGate offers an eponymous mobile app that allows home residents to approve entries and exits, communicate with their neighbors, log attendance and pay society maintenance bills and daily help workers.

The startup says it is operational in 11 cities in India and has amassed over 1.2 million home customers. Its customer base is increasing by 20% each month, it claimed. The service is handling 60,000 requests each minute and clocking over 45 million check-in requests each month.

The idea of MyGate came after its co-founder and CEO, Vijay Arisetty, left the Indian armed force. In an interview with TechCrunch, he said his family was appalled to learn about the poor state of security across societies in India.

“This was also when e-commerce companies and food delivery firms were beginning to gain strong foothold in the nation. This meant that many people were entering a gated community each day,” he said.

MyGate has inked partnerships with many e-commerce players to create a system to offer a silent and secure delivery experience for its users. The startup also trains guards to understand the system.

According to industry estimates, more than 4.5 million people in India today live in gated communities, and that figure is growing by 13% each year. The private security industry in the country is a $15 billion market.

Arisetty says he believes the startup could significantly accelerate its growth as its solution understands the price-sensitive market. Using MyGate costs an apartment about Rs 20 (28 cents) per month. Even at that price, the startup says it is making a profit. “Today, we are seeing more demand than we can handle,” he said.

That’s where the new funding would come into play for the startup, which today employs about 700 people.

The startup plans to use the fresh capital to expand its technology infrastructure, its marketing and operations teams and build new features. The startup aims to reach 15 million homes in 40 Indian cities in the next 18 months.

In a statement, Sanjay Swamy, managing partner at Prime Venture Partners, said, “It’s been great to see a fledgling startup execute consistently and holistically, and grow into a category-creating market-leader.”

Amazon Pay users in India can now pay their utility, mobile and cable bills with Alexa

Amazon Pay users in India can now use voice command with Alexa to pay their utility, internet, mobile, and satellite cable TV bills, the e-commerce giant said on Wednesday. This is the first time, the company said, it is pairing these functionalities with Amazon Pay in any market.

The e-commerce giant, which competes with Walmart’s Flipkart in India, said any Alexa-enabled device such as the Echo Dot smart speaker, the Fire TV Stick dongle, or headphones from third-party vendors will support the aforementioned feature in India.

To be sure, Amazon has long allowed users in many markets to purchase items using voice command with Alexa. But this is the first time the American company is letting users pay their electricity, water, cooking gas, broadband, and satellite TV bills with voice and Amazon Pay.

Amazon Pay is available in many markets, but the service has become especially popular in India, where the concept of parking money to a digital wallet skyrocketed in usage in late 2016 after the Indian government invalidated much of the paper bills in circulation in the country.

Without disclosing specific figures, Amazon said “3X more customers” compared to last year’s event used Amazon Pay service to pay during the recent six-day festive sales. It said a quarter of all digital transactions during the event was carried out on its Pay service.

To boost Amazon Pay engagements in India, the company has offered lofty cashback on Pay on a number of purchases over the years. Users can also enjoy hefty discount if they use Amazon Pay to pay for their food, tickets, and other things on select popular third-party services.

During the holiday season, the company said, “customers booked flight tickets worth 300 trips around the earth.”

Amazon Pay makes it much more convenient for users to pay their digital purchases especially those that are recurring in nature, said Puneesh Kumar, country manager of Alexa Experiences and Devices.

The company says users can engage with Pay through voice commands like “Alexa, what’s my balance,” which will reveal the amount they have available for purchase in their Amazon Pay wallet. Users can also initiate the process of topping money to their mobile wallet using a voice command. They can say something like, “Alexa, add Rs 1000 to my Amazon Pay balance,” which will send a link as a text on their phones to complete the transaction.

Booqed, a Hong Kong-based platform for on-demand work spaces, raises $1.675 million in seed funding

Booqed, a Hong Kong-based platform for booking short-term work spaces, announced today that it has raised $1.675 million in seed funding. Participants included Colliers International, the commercial real-estate management company, Techstars and Lazard Korea.

The company participated in Proptech Accelerator, the Toronto-based accelerator program for property and real estate startups run by Colliers and Techstars, in 2018.

Launched in September 2016, Booqed currently has 1,600 listings for spaces in Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Singapore. It will use its seed round on product roll-outs, marketing and hiring. The platform differentiates from co-working spaces and companies like WeWork because its inventory consists of underused spaces in existing commercial properties, giving property owners and managers to way to make money instead of letting them sit empty.

Booking times can be as short as an hour or as long as several months, and listings include offices and meeting rooms, event spaces, retail stores and studios. Most of the startup’s customers are corporate clients that need to book venues or work spaces for traveling employees.