Uber confirms China police investigating driver over alleged robbery and sexual assault

Reuters / Tyrone Siu

Police in China have opened an investigation after an Uber driver reportedly robbed and sexually assaulted a female passenger in the city of Chengdu on August 5, the company has confirmed to VentureBeat.

Uber previously failed to reply to multiple requests for comment by Reuters on Thursday.

Reports first surfaced Wednesday (link in Chinese) on local state media that a 42-year-old female passenger had hailed an Uber at 2am August 5, only to be robbed of about $800 and sexually assaulted by the male driver.


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The ordeal reportedly lasted for about three hours before the passenger was dropped off. She also claims the male driver, who had a knife, took compromising photographs of her and threatened her not to report the incident to police.

An Uber spokesperson told VentureBeat the company “is in close contact with local authorities” in China, and that police are treating it as a criminal case.

It added that, as with any such safety incident, Uber is conducting its own due diligence on the matter.

“It is our policy to de-activate any driver-partner following any such allegation,” the spokesperson said, “which we did immediately in this instance upon learning of the incident. All Uber driver-partners undergo background checks before being activated on our platform. This driver is no exception and did not have any prior criminal record.”

Uber has previously got itself into hot water over rape claims. In December last year, the service was banned in Delhi following a high-profile rape case. On December 7, Indian police arrested a driver, and Uber went on to issue a public apology.

More recently in June, Chinese police reported the first rape claims against a driver of a car-hailing app, though at the time it didn’t emerge if it was an Uber driver specifically.

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Xiaomi’s reported move to in-house chips could spell trouble for Qualcomm

Reuters / Bobby Yip

Fresh reports (link in Chinese) surfaced Thursday that Xiaomi, China’s number one smartphone maker, is planning to use in-house chips for its low- and mid-range smartphones in 2016.

The rumored move, which first appeared earlier this month (link also in Chinese), is notable because of the sheer size Xiaomi has grown to. Any changes in its business verticals will have a rippling affect on other players and suppliers in those industries.

The Chinese upstart was the fourth largest smartphone maker in Q2 by shipments, behind rivals Samsung, Apple, and Huawei.


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The move spells bad news in particular for already-struggling chip maker Qualcomm, who supplies Xiaomi with the more lucrative chips in its mid-range and flagship devices. These include the recently launched Mi Note Pro in January ($480) that runs on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810, and the Mi 4i in April ($200) that runs on the slower Snapdragon 615.

Xiaomi’s lower-end devices, like the Redmi Note 2 ($168) that launched this month, are already running on chips from Chinese chip maker MediaTek. If we backtrack to last year, we have the case study of Xiaomi-owned Pine Cone Electronics working with Chinese chip maker Leadcore Technology to develop the LC1860 processor. That processor ended up in the low-end Redmi 2A ($96), which proved a lucrative model for Xiaomi and allowed it to keep prices low. Qualcomm’s comparable processor would have reportedly cost double — $8 apiece instead of $4.

Qualcomm recently saw its quarterly profits slide by as much as 46 percent, and is reportedly preparing to lay off several thousand employees. Like an increasing number of technology companies, including Apple, the California-based chip maker is over reliant on sales from Asia.

In Qualcomm’s case, as much as 84 percent of its annual sales come from this part of the world, as of July data, and Xiaomi is no doubt one of its biggest customers. But the move seems to be part of a wider trend that is leaving Qualcomm in the lurch.

South Korean giant Samsung moved away from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon earlier this year, which it had been expected to supply, opting instead to use its own in-house chips for the flagship Galaxy S6.

It’s not unforeseeable that Xiaomi will ultimately look to do the same with its own flagship devices. For now though, they are still running on Qualcomm’s technology — a Snapdragon 820 is expected to power the Mi 5, rumored for a November release.

Xiaomi is eyeing a U.S. entry for its smartphones in 2016 (it already sells some products there), but owning as many verticals as possible first is a logical move if it wants to compete against local players. Producing its own chips is part of that wider vision of control, much like Apple.

A report in May by the EETimes quoted a Leadcore executive as saying that “Xiaomi wants its own custom-designed processors to differentiate its products and control its destiny.”

Meanwhile, a separate report by a Chinese-language newspaper (via DigiTimes) said that the company has obtained the right to gain access to ARM processor technology.

Xiaomi declined to comment for this story. Qualcomm has not replied to our request for comment, but we’ll update you if we hear back.

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Xiaomi’s reported move to in-house chips could spell trouble for Qualcomm

Reuters / Bobby Yip

Fresh reports (link in Chinese) surfaced Thursday that Xiaomi, China’s number one smartphone maker, is planning to use in-house chips for its low- and mid-range smartphones in 2016.

The rumored move, which first appeared earlier this month (link also in Chinese), is notable because of the sheer size Xiaomi has grown to. Any changes in its business verticals will have a rippling affect on other players and suppliers in those industries.

The Chinese upstart was the fourth largest smartphone maker in Q2 by shipments, behind rivals Samsung, Apple, and Huawei.


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The move spells bad news in particular for already-struggling chip maker Qualcomm, who supplies Xiaomi with the more lucrative chips in its mid-range and flagship devices. These include the recently launched Mi Note Pro in January ($480) that runs on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810, and the Mi 4i in April ($200) that runs on the slower Snapdragon 615.

Xiaomi’s lower-end devices, like the Redmi Note 2 ($168) that launched this month, are already running on chips from Chinese chip maker MediaTek. If we backtrack to last year, we have the case study of Xiaomi-owned Pine Cone Electronics working with Chinese chip maker Leadcore Technology to develop the LC1860 processor. That processor ended up in the low-end Redmi 2A ($96), which proved a lucrative model for Xiaomi and allowed it to keep prices low. Qualcomm’s comparable processor would have reportedly cost double — $8 apiece instead of $4.

Qualcomm recently saw its quarterly profits slide by as much as 46 percent, and is reportedly preparing to lay off several thousand employees. Like an increasing number of technology companies, including Apple, the California-based chip maker is over reliant on sales from Asia.

In Qualcomm’s case, as much as 84 percent of its annual sales come from this part of the world, as of July data, and Xiaomi is no doubt one of its biggest customers. But the move seems to be part of a wider trend that is leaving Qualcomm in the lurch.

South Korean giant Samsung moved away from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon earlier this year, which it had been expected to supply, opting instead to use its own in-house chips for the flagship Galaxy S6.

It’s not unforeseeable that Xiaomi will ultimately look to do the same with its own flagship devices. For now though, they are still running on Qualcomm’s technology — a Snapdragon 820 is expected to power the Mi 5, rumored for a November release.

Xiaomi is eyeing a U.S. entry for its smartphones in 2016 (it already sells some products there), but owning as many verticals as possible first is a logical move if it wants to compete against local players. Producing its own chips is part of that wider vision of control, much like Apple.

A report in May by the EETimes quoted a Leadcore executive as saying that “Xiaomi wants its own custom-designed processors to differentiate its products and control its destiny.”

Meanwhile, a separate report by a Chinese-language newspaper (via DigiTimes) said that the company has obtained the right to gain access to ARM processor technology.

Xiaomi declined to comment for this story. Qualcomm has not replied to our request for comment, but we’ll update you if we hear back.

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Intel continues drone push with $60M investment into Yuneec

intel-yuneec

Intel just announced a more than $60 million investment into Shanghai-based drone maker Yuneec. The news comes the same week that fellow Chinese drone company Ehang raised $42 million, and Sony unveiled its own drone prototype due out in early 2016.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich called Yuneec’s technology “a game changer in the drone industry,” and said the investment falls in line with Intel’s vision of a “smart and connected world” propelled in part by the evolution of drone technology.

Yuneec’s main rival in China, SZ DJI Technology, also raised $75 million at an $8 billion valuation earlier this year. Intel has notably previously invested in drone companies PrecisionHawk (a $10 million Series B in November) and Airware (an undisclosed amount in April).


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Yuneec’s chief executive Tian Yu said that a controller with a built-in screen, as well as a smart mode, makes the hardware “very easy to learn” for beginners. He added that new users will be able to “take off in five minutes” of getting their hands it.

“Together, we believe we can make drones that will truly change the world,” Krzanich said. Yuneec’s Typhoon Q500 model, which comes with 4K video recording, can be set up to automatically follow a user’s movements on the ground.

Amazon, Facebook, and Google all testing their own drones. Intel’s move is unlikely to be the last big investment we hear of in the space this year.

While neither company specifically stated what the news funds will be used for, we have reached out to Yuneec for comment, and will update you if we hear back.

The announcement video, which includes footage of Yu test flying the drone, is included below.

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What the China stock market crash means for startups

A passerby walks past a panel displaying China stock indexes at the financial Central district in Hong Kong, China August 24, 2015.

The China stock market downturn and currency changes have started to impact the global market. With 50+ startups in my firm’s global portfolio and a fast growing startup of my own, I thought it would be very timely to discuss what is happening in China and it’s potential impact on startups.

So I jumped on a call with Vaughn Tan, Assistant Professor at University College London (UCL)’s School of Management Strategy and Entrepreneurship Group. Vaughn is also a fellow of the Institute for Data-driven Design and received a PhD in Organizational Behavior from Harvard in 2013. In this chat we discuss the current situation in China, what startup founders should do to prepare for a potential global slowdown/crash, and how to manage for rapid change impacting your business.

Frank: Tell us a bit about yourself

Vaughn: I’m originally from Singapore, and moved to London a couple of years ago. My research deals with how individuals and organizations can deal with uncertain environments, which are different from risky environments. I think about how groups can organize themselves to deal with uncertainty, and help them understand their goals better so they can better respond to events like a stock market crash.

Frank: The issues in China have started to really impact the global markets. How do you see the state of the world at the moment, and will China continue to have a significant effect on the world economy or not?

Vaughn: I would begin by framing how I think about “big countries”, such as China. Firstly, the bigger and more complex the economy  —  the more uncertain it is. The more things that are interacting, the larger the system, the harder it is to predict what is going to happen in the future. Now, what’s been interesting with China is that not only is it large and complex, it is also moving considerably fast because it is such a large and desirable economy to participate in. People are piling in, and as they pile in, things start to move faster. The movement of capital flows inside and outside of China have been accelerating in the last few years, and when you have the combination of large size, complexity, and speed, you have the situation where you really are very uncertain about what is going on. China is in that situation now.

Adding to that, there is something about the macro economics of China that people have been talking about that deserves a bit more attention. Whenever we look at the macro-economic data of a country, we look at statistics mostly, sometimes from single sources and sometimes from a whole bunch of sources. But with an economy as large and as complex as China, you sometimes have to wonder if if the numbers you are getting are accurate, or indeed if they can be accurate. It’s very difficult to measure unemployment in a country like China with such a massive rural population, and it’s very difficult to keep it up to date. The official unemployment data as seen in the Atlas graph below, has had an eerie stillness to it that suggests that it may not be entirely accurate.

At the moment, China does not feel to me to be as stable as people want it to be, considering how much they are now exposed to it. Added to that is the uncertainty that comes from not knowing whether the measurements of the statistics that we use to understand the state of the economy are themselves accurate or if they can be.

One other thought  —  the fast moving nature of China has made it a desirable place to go. The speed of production, the vast customer base, the ever evolving economy makes you want to be there. However, things that we want out of an investment environment  —  stability, predictability  —  those are things that don’t work very well in the China context simply because of all the things I’ve said before. So all told, China does not feel like a place I would feel very comfortable being highly exposed to at this time, unless I was comfortable with a highly heterogeneous set of outcomes.

Frank: Now, in particular for startups and founders who are looking at what is going on at a world level, what type of advice do you give?

Vaughn: Let me start by saying it is very difficult to prepare for uncertainty, and also make a long term sustainable profit. Across the vast majority of startups, you will have to make a trade-off between being ready for an unpredictable future, and exploiting the present. What I mean by this, is that if you want to make strong profits now, or if you are an early stage startup that has a tight burn rate, that doesn’t give you much slack to prepare for the future.

Being prepared for uncertainty is the same for a large organization as it is for a startup. It means having extra resources that aren’t currently being used  —  that look like inefficiency or waste  —  that might be useful when the current environment changes. That change could be a macro-economic change, or a new technology for instance. It’s very difficult to plan for though: even if you invest in extra resources to be ready for uncertainty, you can’t guarantee that your extra resources will be appropriate for whatever change occurs.

Frank: Talking about extra resources, my advice to startups in situations like this, is that if you haven’t got revenue generators in place, you need to think about it and implement them quickly. Because in an investment downturn that is what will get you through the hard times. What do you normally see in situations like this, what do investors normally do and how should CEO’s plan?

Vaughn: What normally happens is flight to safety. When markets turn unstable and begin to be perceived as poor places to make high returns, capital flows toward perceived stability (even when it means low returns)  —  like real estate and bonds. But low risk real estate, not speculative real estate. I expect money to start flowing into geo-politically stable regions. London, for instance, will probably continue to receive large infusions of external capital.

Your point about concentrating on revenues, rather than depending on external streams of capital makes a lot of sense for startups in times of uncertainty like this. Intermediate product development is what I suggest for a startup CEO working out what to do in the event of the stock market crash accelerating and investors being more cautious.

You should not be trying to build that massive product that you hope will be a total market killer, you should instead be focusing on intermediate product steps that generate revenue and help you figure out what the product might eventually become. Monetizable intermediate product is a good way to learn about the market and do small-scale hypothesis testing, but it is also a way to free yourself from the constraints of needing external financing.”

You can prepare for uncertainty not just by stockpiling cash, but also by:

  • having a company culture that can assess and adapt to rapidly changing environments.
  • having product teams that are able to build and release something small that is part of a bigger product without having to build the entirety of the “big product” first.
  • having investors that are wise enough to support you as a CEO as you work through ideas that may seem very different but are responding to fast change around you.

All of those things are important to build up in your business, so you aren’t scrambling to do them when change is forcing you to.

Frank: My final question is that, as a startup founder looking at what is going on macro-economically, how should you study it? What advice do you give for understanding what is going on and the potential impact?

Vaughn: It’s a great question. There are many correct answers to this. But the key is in trying to look at interdependencies. For instance, in regards to China, if I was a startup CEO and looking at China as a source of supply  —  then I would look at whether your supply chain/product that emanates from China depends on supply chains going into China that would be severely affected by exchange rate risk. For example, if you are manufacturing product where the raw materials are almost exclusively produced inside China, you are probably fairly well insulated from major fluctuations in the cost of goods sold based on low currency exchange risk. However, if your product relies on raw materials coming into China from all over the world, you might start seeing a lot of your product costs fluctuating much more than you would want.

And if you are thinking about China as a source of demand, then I would consider the possibility that China is not demographically as it is presented  —  it has been presented in recent years as a rapidly expanding wealthy middle class with strong buying power. But China is a massive country with a much more diverse population than that, and you should watch the retail numbers very closely to see if there is a growing impact of the stock market and currency changes on the purchasing power of this sector of the Chinese economy.

However, let me finish by saying that as individuals, as humans, we tend to think about risk a lot and try to make bets and predict future outcomes. However, as we move into more interdependent economies and rapidly changing environments in which we do business, we need to become a lot more ok with simply not knowing what is going to happen and try not to react too quickly to change. Instead, as a CEO, you should be putting in place the things I’ve talked about above to ensure you and your teams can assess and adapt calmly to rapid changes around you.

Frank Meehan is cofounder and partner at SparkLabs Global Ventures, which has over 50 startup investments around the world and is the sister company to SparkLabs Korea: Asia’s largest accelerator. He is also the cofounder of www.SmartUp.io , a free app for startups that Apple selected among its “Best Apps of June 2015.”


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Alibaba’s Cloud Computing Group Says Its New Artificial Intelligence Platform Is China’s First

cloud computing Aliyun, the cloud computing unit of Alibaba Group, is launching an artificial intelligence platform that it claims is the first in China. Called DT PAI, the service combines algorithms used by Alibaba with machine and deep learning techniques and presents them in a simple drag-and-drop interface. Aliyun says developers can use DT PAI to predict user behavior without having to write new code. Read More

China passed 250M 4G users in July, more than double the subscribers in the U.S.

Apple's CEO Tim Cook on a visit to China in 2014. Reuters / China Stringer Network

China’s 4G mobile users surpassed 250 million for the first time at the end of July, according to newly released data (link in Chinese) from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (hat tip to TechNode). If you throw 3G users into the mix, that number shoots up to a whopping 695 million users, with China’s total mobile user base now at 1.29 billion.

250 million is a milestone to be celebrated — it represents 4G penetration of nearly 20 percent, versus 40 percent (over 100 million) in the US at the end of 2014. Still, the figure belies a slightly shadier forecast: The report made clear that China’s mobile user growth rate so far this year has slowed to just a quarter of what it was over the same period in 2014.

Meanwhile, a separate report by the country’s state-run English-language newspaper China Daily over the weekend notes that the country has achieved this explosive growth in a mere 20 months since regulators first issued telcos 4G licenses. Though, somewhat confusingly, the article pegs the country’s 4G user base at 225 million, possibly in reference to June’s numbers rather than July’s.

Xinhua, the Chinese government’s official press agency, on Monday also had the 250 million number. The same report pointed out that the country’s three telecom giants — China Telecom, China Unicom, and China Mobile (currently the world’s largest telco) — “raked in a total of 75.3 billion yuan (about $11.8 billion) in the first half of 2015.” This was largely off the back of continued 4G growth.

Combined, 3G and 4G in the country now have a penetration of close to 54 percent among mobile users, according to the ministry’s report, and while the addition of new subscribers may be slowing, data consumption is through the roof. An average user in China now consumes around 330MB of data per month, almost twice as much (up 85 percent) as 12 months ago.

China’s International Telecommunication Union confirmed that it is actively developing 5G technology and industry, keeping up the blistering pace of development. But there has also been major reshuffling announced Monday at the very top levels of the country’s three telcos as Beijing aims to revamp state-owned firms.

4G growth aside, the broader challenges being faced by China’s volatile economy of late have rocked markets and tech stocks worldwide, leading Apple’s CEO Tim Cook to take the unusual step of issuing a statement to CNBC on Monday in an attempt to soothe investors. Apple, like an increasing number of smartphone makers, is heavily reliant (read: overexposed) on Chinese consumer demand to hit Wall Street’s targets.

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Tim Cook’s China statement soothes Apple investor freak-out

tim-cook-lightsaber-apple-ceo-war-happy-celebrating-good-star-wars

Apple investors are willing to overlook many things, but the health of the Chinese iPhone market isn’t one of them.

On news of a tanking Chinese stock market early today, Apple investors were running for the exits. Apple stock dove way below the $100 market for the first time this year — to $94.87.

Apple may be a little sensitive about China, too. Tim Cook this morning made a rare mid-quarter statement about the market in a note to CNBC markets expert Jim Cramer. It goes:

I can tell you that we have continued to experience strong growth for our business in China through July and August. Growth in iPhone activations has actually accelerated over the past few weeks, and we have had the best performance of the year for the App Store in China during the last 2 weeks.

Cook gave no actual numbers, but the little he did say was apparently enough. Apple stock has now bounced back to pre-crisis levels at around $107 at the time of this writing (1 p.m. EST Monday).


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This isn’t the first time Cook has addressed fears about the Chinese market, and Apple’s dependence on hot iPhone sales there.

China’s stock market tanked back on July 6, too, remember, and sure enough Cook found himself reassuring investors after his company announced third quarter earnings July 21. Apple’s stock dropped 7 percent in after-hours trading that day, largely on worries over China.

Apple reported a decline in China iPhone sales of 21 percent from the previous quarter, but a 112 percent increase from the same quarter a year earlier.

During a conference call with analysts, Apple CEO Tim Cook said Apple will continue to put the “pedal to the metal” in China, and that Apple might feel some bumps in the road but in the long term China will be a large and growing revenue source.

Cook has good reason for saying so. Apple’s large-screened phones sell best in markets where mobile bandwidth is plentiful, and the Chinese mobile carriers are just now building their LTE networks.

As of the end of 2014, the number of mobile Internet users in China reached 557 million (an increase of 56.72 million for the year), making it the largest smartphone market in the world, according to the China Internet Network Information Center.

This means there will be fierce competition among companies like Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, Huawei, and others for share in the emerging market. And there may be enough addressable market there to buoy up Apple’s iPhone’s sales for the foreseeable future.

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Uber’s WeChat drama exposes the unique challenges of winning in China

Image credit: Reuters / Kim Kyung Hoon

Uber’s latest complaint is kind of hilarious, but at the same time understandable considering the alien and oftentimes confusing market that is China. It’s hard to forget the huge amount of resources the ride-hailing company is throwing at its attempt to conquer it, frequently making headlines.

In a nutshell, Uber believes it is the victim of — albeit indirectly, though not exactly discretely — anti-competitive behavior from its single biggest rival and market incumbent in the country, the ubiquitous Didi Kuaidi.

Indirectly because, in this case, Didi hasn’t actually done anything wrong per se. Instead, one of Didi’s biggest investors, Tencent, seems to have blocked Uber from its WeChat app and the 600 million active users that go along with it.

For those outside Asia and China not entirely familiar with WeChat, Andreessen Horowitz Partner Connie Chan perhaps most succinctly described the importance of Tencent’s WeChat app in her excellent analysis:

“Along with its basic communication features,” Chan wrote in a blog post, “WeChat users in China can access services to hail a taxi, order food delivery, buy movie tickets, play casual games, check in for a flight, send money to friends, access fitness tracker data, book a doctor appointment, get banking statements, pay the water bill, find geo-targeted coupons, recognize music, search for a book at the local library, meet strangers around you, follow celebrity news, read magazine articles, and even donate to charity… all in a single, integrated app.”

That’s why WeChat has become such a big deal both at home and — more as a case study of where Western apps like Facebook Messenger will head — abroad.

In an interview with Bloomberg published today, Uber’s senior vice president for business, Emil Michael, said the company is facing “a deterioration in the competitive environment” in China. He pointed to a chain of events that started with the disappearance of its customer support profile on WeChat in the cities of Hangzhou and then Beijing (on March 16 and 17, respectively).

And while Bloomberg, citing local media reports in China, said that Tencent accused Uber of violating WeChat policy and technical glitches, the real reason is likely to be far more… sinister? But hey, what’s going to be the upshot? For now, while the ride-hailing space in the country (indeed globally) — and the legislation around it — is going through its initial growing pains, it seems extremely unlikely that the Chinese courts would seek to intervene on an anti-trust basis against Tencent or Didi.

After all, China’s government appears to be in quite the protectionist mode at present, made worse by its home stock market woes and moves to depreciate its currency in what many see as an attempt to keep itself competitive and spur a slowing economy.

But here’s the reason I said in the very first sentence that the complaint is kind of hilarious, and the crux of why this whole thing has blown up to become such a big issue for Uber: The US company is clearly relying a little too heavily on a Chinese-controlled platform, which, for all intents and purposes, is as good as owned by its direct competitor. It’s allowed itself to get into a situation where it’s not OK for it to be “banned” on WeChat.

That’s kind of a sucky state of affairs. And while Didi might not so easily get away with it in a country like the U.S., the reality is that Uber is fighting a war on enemy territory.

Being banned on WeChat is increasingly going to be a headache for any company — foreign or local — that wants to benefit from that powerful and almost unparalleled channel into 600-plus million tech-savvy Chinese consumers, many of whom have credit cards linked to their account.

But if Uber wants to have a real shot at stealing market share from Didi in China — and I don’t see why it shouldn’t have a real shot based on its current projections and the endless money that it’s throwing at the problem — it will clearly have to move away from any kind of strategies, reliance or expectation of good will from a defensive competitor that controls powerful gateways to local consumers.

Especially when that competitor is a homegrown answer from a country as notoriously difficult for foreign tech companies to navigate and win in as China.

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