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India’s largest video streaming service, owned by Disney, breaks Safari compatibility to fix security flaw

Hotstar, India’s largest video streaming service with more than 300 million users, disabled support for Apple’s Safari web browser on Friday to mitigate a security flaw that allowed unauthorized usage of its platform, two sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The incident comes at a time when the streaming service — operated by Star India, part of 20th Century Fox that Disney acquired — enjoys peak attention as millions of people watch the ongoing ICC World Cup cricket tournament on its platform.

As users began to complain about not being able to use Hotstar on Safari, the company’s official support account asserted that “technical limitations” on Apple’s part were the bottleneck. “These limitations have been from Safari; there is very little we can do on this,” the account tweeted Friday evening.

Sources at Hotstar told TechCrunch that this was not an accurate description of the event. Instead, company’s engineers had identified a security hole that was being exploited by unauthorized users to access Hotstar’s content, they said.

Hotstar intends to work on patching the flaw soon and then reinstate support for Safari, the sources said.

The security flaw can only be exploited through Safari’s desktop and mobile browsers. On its website, the company recommends users to try Chrome and Firefox, or its mobile apps, to access the service. Hotstar did not respond to requests for comment.

Hotstar, which rivals Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in India, maintains a strong lead in the local video streaming market (based on number of users and engagement). Last month, it claimed to set a new global record by drawing more than 18 million viewers to a live cricket match.

India’s largest video streaming service, owned by Disney, breaks Safari compatibility to fix security flaw

Hotstar, India’s largest video streaming service with more than 300 million users, disabled support for Apple’s Safari web browser on Friday to mitigate a security flaw that allowed unauthorized usage of its platform, two sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The incident comes at a time when the streaming service — operated by Star India, part of 20th Century Fox that Disney acquired — enjoys peak attention as millions of people watch the ongoing ICC World Cup cricket tournament on its platform.

As users began to complain about not being able to use Hotstar on Safari, the company’s official support account asserted that “technical limitations” on Apple’s part were the bottleneck. “These limitations have been from Safari; there is very little we can do on this,” the account tweeted Friday evening.

Sources at Hotstar told TechCrunch that this was not an accurate description of the event. Instead, company’s engineers had identified a security hole that was being exploited by unauthorized users to access Hotstar’s content, they said.

Hotstar intends to work on patching the flaw soon and then reinstate support for Safari, the sources said.

The security flaw can only be exploited through Safari’s desktop and mobile browsers. On its website, the company recommends users to try Chrome and Firefox, or its mobile apps, to access the service. Hotstar did not respond to requests for comment.

Hotstar, which rivals Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in India, maintains a strong lead in the local video streaming market (based on number of users and engagement). Last month, it claimed to set a new global record by drawing more than 18 million viewers to a live cricket match.

Uber may have left Southeast Asia but its APAC HQ remains in Singapore

Uber exited Southeast Asia last year after it sold its local business to Grab but it continues to remain in Singapore, where it has now opened a new regional HQ for Asia Pacific and is hiring for staff.

The company — which is headed for IPO imminently — won’t be restarting its service, however, which puts it in a rather interesting position in Singapore.

The writing has been on the wall for some time, though. TechCrunch reported last August that Uber was on a hiring spree in Singapore, and now that has come to fruition with the opening with a new 2,000 sq meter office near the Central Business District in Singapore. That’ll function as the management center for the nine markets that Uber operates in across Asia Pacific, which include Japan, Korea and Australia. India, Uber’s second largest market, is managed separately to the rest of the continent.

Uber’s Southeast Asia sale — which saw it take a tactical 27.5 percent stake in its Singapore-based rival — gave Grab first refusal on a lot of Uber’s operational talent, but most of Uber’s core management team remained with the company in Singapore. For example, Brooks Entwistle, who was hired as chief business officer for Asia Pacific in 2017, remains stationed there as Uber’s international chief business officer.

Big day for ⁦@Uber⁩ in Asia as we open our new APAC HQ in Singapore. Our awesome team is growing as we deepen our commitment to this city-state and its outstanding tech talent and focus. We are hiring! #Uber #UberEATS #JUMP #Onward #Asia #Singapore https://t.co/BOnOn2GblE

— Brooks Entwistle (@BrooksEntwistle) April 2, 2019

Straits Times reports that Uber’s Singapore headcount is at least 165 with some 17 vacancies open right now. As we reported last year, the company was aiming to hire at least 75 roles to take its Singapore-based team to over “well over” 100 — it seems that it did that and then some.

It’s time to disrupt nuclear weapons

Beatrice Fihn
Contributor

Beatrice Fihn is the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and the winner of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.

“Atomic bombs are primarily a means for the ruthless annihilation of cities.”

Those are the words of Leo Szilard, one of the scientists who pushed for the development of nuclear weapons. He wrote them as part of a petition signed by dozens of other scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project pleading with President Harry Truman not to use the nuclear bomb on Japan.

Mere months after its introduction in 1945, the architects of today’s nuclear world feared the implications of the technology they had created.

Nearly 75 years later it’s time again to ask technologists, innovators, entrepreneurs and academics: will you be party to the ‘ruthless annihilation of cities’? Will you expend your talents in the service of nuclear weapons? Will you use technology to create or to destroy?

Our moment of choice

Humanity is at another turning point.

A new nuclear arms race has begun in earnest with the US and Russia leading the way; tearing up the promise of lasting peace in favor of a new Cold War. Russia’s latest weapon is built to destroy entire coast lines with a radioactive tsunami. The US is building new nuclear weapons that are ‘more likely to be used’.

Meanwhile, North Korea appears to again be building its nascent nuclear weapons program. And India and Pakistan stand on the verge of open nuclear conflict, which climate modeling shows could lead to a global famine killing upwards of 2 billion people.

An Indian student wearing a mask poses with her hands painted with a slogans for peace during a rally to mark Hiroshima Day, in Mumbai on August 6, 2018. (PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP/Getty Images)

How do we stop this march toward oblivion?

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has created an opening — a chance to radically change course with the power of international law and shifting norms. The nuclear ban treaty will become international law once 50 nations have ratified it. We are already at 22.

The financial world is also recognizing the risk, with some of the world’s biggest pension funds divesting from nuclear weapons. But there is something even more powerful than the almighty dollar; human capital.

“It took innovation, technological disruption, and ingenuity to create the nuclear dawn. We will need those same forces in greater measure to bring about a nuclear dusk.”

The nuclear weapons industrial complex relies on the most talented scientists, engineers, physicists and technologists to build this deadly arsenal. As more of that talent moves into the tech sector, defense contractors and the Pentagon is seeking to work with major technology companies and disruptive startups, as well as continue their work with universities.

Without those talented technologists, there would be no new nuclear arms race. It’s time to divest human capital from nuclear weapons.

A mistake to end humanity?

Just over one year ago Hawaiians took cover and frantically Googled, “What to do during a nuclear attack”. Days later many Japanese mobile phone users also received a false alert for an inbound nuclear missile.

The combination of human error and technological flaws these incidents exposed makes accidental nuclear attacks an inevitability if we don’t move to end nuclear weapons before they end us.

The development of new machine learning technologies, autonomous weapons systems, cyber threats and social media manipulation are already destabilizing the global political order and potentially increasing the risk of a nuclear cataclysm. That is why it’s vital that the technology community collectively commits to using their skills and knowledge to protect us from nuclear eradication by joining the effort for global nuclear abolition.

A mock “killer robot” is pictured in central London on April 23, 2013 during the launching of the Campaign to Stop “Killer Robots,” which calls for the ban of lethal robot weapons that would be able to select and attack targets without any human intervention. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots calls for a pre-emptive and comprehensive ban on the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons. (Photo: CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

We need to stop this foolish nuclear escalation in its tracks. Our commitment must be to a nuclear weapons-free world, by disrupting the trajectory we are currently heading on. Business as usual will likely end in nuclear war.

It took innovation, technological disruption, and ingenuity to create the nuclear dawn. We will need those same forces in greater measure to bring about a nuclear dusk — the complete disarmament of nuclear-armed states and safeguards against future proliferation.

The belief that we can keep doing what we have done for seven decades for another seven decades is naive. It relies on a fanciful, misplaced faith in the illogical idea of deterrence. We are told simultaneously that nuclear weapons keep the world safe, by never being used. They bestow power, but only make certain states powerful.

This fallacy has been exposed by this moment in time. Thirty years after the end of the Cold War, nuclear weapons have proliferated. Key treaties have been torn up or are under threat. And even more states are threatening to develop nuclear weapons.

So I am putting out a call to you: join us with this necessary disruption; declare that you will not have a hand in our demise; declare that you will use technology for good.

The Khashoggi murder isn’t stopping SoftBank’s Vision Fund

Money talks in the startup community, especially when SoftBank comes knocking with the megabucks of its Vision Fund.

Despite the public outcry around the firm’s dependence on money from Saudi Arabia in the wake of that country’s assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, deal flow for Softbank’s Vision Fund appears to be back to normal.

The $100 billion megafund has done 21 deals over the last two quarters, that’s as more than in the other quarters of the previous year combined, according to data from Crunchbase, thanks to an uptick from Asia. Since the October 2 murder, there have been 11 investments in U.S. companies, seven in Asia, two in Europe and one in Latin America. Just this week, the fund completed a near $1.5 billion investment in Southeast Asia-based ride-hailing company Grab.

While U.S. and European firms have more options, and therefore, perhaps deserve more scrutiny, Softbank’s cash is increasingly the only game in town for startups in Asia, where there are fewer alternatives for later stage capital outside of large Chinese private equity firms or tech giants — which come with their own risks.

The Vision Fund is seen by some critics as tainted money for its links to the Saudi Royal family. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is the fund’s anchor investor and it is controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been strongly linked with the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the regime.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was murdered on October 2 after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. His visit was part of an effort to obtain divorce documents in order to marry his fiancée, but it ended with his apparently gruesome death. Audio clips suggest he was beheaded, dismembered, and had his fingers severed before his body was dissolved in acid, although new reports suggest it may have been burned.

Jamal Khashoggi — pictured in 2014 — was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year [Photographer: Ohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty Images]

The Vision Fund is designed to finance ‘global winners’ which, like all investment funds, is set up to provide ‘unfair advantages’ to help its companies grow into hugely important businesses. On the financial end, as is the norm, it is built to provide handsome returns to the LPs, thus directly boosting the coffers of the PIF, the Saudi kingdom, and by extension the Saudi prince himself.

An investigation is going, but there’s already plenty of evidence to suggest that the murder happened at the request of the prince.

Sources within the U.S. State Department have reportedly said it is “blindingly obvious” that the Crown Prince ordered the killing — he reportedly threatened to shoot Khashoggi one year before. But, now that the apparent period of outrage is over, SoftBank has reverted back to writing checks and companies are taking them in spite of the links to Saudi Arabia.

For startups, the money flow means that a major source of capital for growth or subsidies for customers comes from the Saudi royal family’s pockets — a regime that would reportedly not hesitate to murder a critical voice.

SoftBank’s Vision Fund has ramped up its deals over the past six months, according to data from Crunchbase

What are the companies saying?

SoftBank itself said it has a commitment to “the people” of Saudi Arabia that will see it deploy its capital unchanged, although Chairman Masayoshi Son did concede that he will wait on the findings of the investigation into the murder before deciding on whether PIF will be involved in a second Vision Fund.

The founders taking the capital have been more cautious. When questioned, executives talk about the specifics of their deal and their growth plans, most defer issues on the management of LPs, like PIF, to SoftBank. While offering words in support of the ongoing murder investigation, they manage to say little about the ethics of taking money from the Saudi regime.

Bom Kim, CEO of Korean e-commerce company Coupang — which raised $2 billion from the Vision Fund — told TechCrunch in November that the allegations around the murder “don’t represent us and don’t represent [Vision Fund] companies.”

“We are deeply concerned by the reported events and alongside SoftBank are monitoring the situation closely until the full facts are known,” Tokopedia CEO William Tanuwijaya told TechCrunch in December after the Vision Fund co-led a $1.1 billion round.

William Tanuwijaya is the co-founder and CEO of Tokopedia [Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg]

OYO, the budget hotel network based out of India, did not respond to a request comment sent the day before this story was published. The startup raised $1 billion led by the Vision Fund in September.

TechCrunch was also unable to get a response to questions sent to Chehaoduo, the Vision Fund’s first China-based startup which raised $1.5 billion in February. The company is notable for being the only one of this group that didn’t count SoftBank as an existing investor prior to its Vision Fund deal.

The latest addition to the collection is Grab, the ride-hailing company in Southeast Asia that’s led by CEO Anthony Tan, who is very publicly a devout Christian. In a statement sent to TechCrunch this week, Grab defended its relationship with SoftBank, which first invested in Grab back in 2014:

What happened to Jamal Khashoggi was obviously horrible. We hope whoever is responsible is held accountable. We are not in a position to comment on behalf of SoftBank but from our perspective Son-san and the entire SoftBank team have brought so much value to the table for Grab – beyond just financing. They have brought advice, mentorship and potential business opportunities. The Vision Fund is about investing for the next 100 or 200 years and investing in trends that will move the needle for humanity in positive ways. This is a lofty and ultimately positive goal.

Anthony Tan is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Grab [Photographer: Ore Huiying/Bloomberg/Getty Images]

The Vision Fund is just getting started in Asia, however, with rumors suggesting it is planning to open offices in China and India. Singapore is presumably on that list, too, while the fund has been busy hiring a general team that will operate globally out of the U.S.

To date, the fund’s focus in Asia has been on some of the region’s largest (highest-valued) companies, but as it develops a local presence it is likely to seek out less obvious deals to grow its portfolio. That’s going to mean this question of ethics and conscience around the Vision Fund’s capital will present itself to more founders in Asia. Going on what we’ve seen so far, most will have no problem taking the money and issuing platitudinous statements.

Privately, VCs in the region who I have canvassed have told me that founders have little choice but to take the Vision Fund’s money. They explain that nobody else can offer billion-dollar-sized checks, while SoftBank is an existing investor in many of them already which gives it additional leverage. The fund also takes the aggressive approach of threatening to back rival companies if it doesn’t get the deals it wants, as we saw when Son said he’d consider a deal with Lyft when its Uber investment was uncertain.

That reality may be true — finding an alternative to a hypothetical $1 billion Vision Fund check is a daunting challenge — but we’ve reached a very sad time and place when the sheer size of an investment overrides important concerns about where that money came from.

India’s Ola spins out a dedicated EV business — and it just raised $56M from investors

Ola, Uber’s key rival in India, is doubling down on electric vehicles after it span out a dedicated business, which has pulled in $56 million in early funding.

The unit is named Ola Electric Mobility and it is described as being an independent business that’s backed by Ola. TechCrunch understands Ola provided founding capital, and it has now been joined by a series of investors who have pumped Rs. 400 crore ($56 million) into Ola Electric. Notably, those backers include Tiger Global and Matrix India — two firms that were early investors in Ola itself.

While automotive companies and ride-hailing services in the U.S. are focused on bringing autonomous vehicles to the streets, India — like other parts of Asia — is more challenging thanks to diverse geographies, more sparse mapping and other factors. In India, companies have instead flocked to electric. The government had previously voiced its intention to make 30 percent of vehicles electric by 2030, but it has not formally introduced a policy to guide that initiative.

Ola has taken steps to electrify its fleet — it pledged last year to add 10,000 electric rickshaws to its fleet and has conducted other pilots with the goal of offering one million EVs by 2022 — but the challenge is such that it has spun out Ola Electric to go deeper into EVs.

That means that Ola Electric won’t just be concerned with vehicles, it has a far wider remit.

The new company has pledged to focus on areas that include charging solutions, EV batteries, and developing viable infrastructure that allows commercial EVs to operate at scale, according to an announcement. In other words, the challenge of developing electric vehicles goes beyond being a ‘ride-hailing problem’ and that is why Ola Electric has been formed and is being capitalized independently of Ola.

An electric rickshaw from Ola

Its leadership is also wholly separate.

Ola Electric is led by Ola executives Anand Shah and Ankit Jain — who led Ola’s connected car platform strategy — and the team includes former executives from carmakers such as BMW.

Already, it said it has partnered with “several” OEMs and battery makers and it “intends to work closely with the automotive industry to create seamless solutions for electric vehicle operations.” Indeed, that connected car play — Ola Play — likely already gives it warm leads to chase.

“At Ola Electric, our mission is to enable sustainable mobility for everyone. India can leapfrog problems of pollution and energy security by moving to electric mobility, create millions of new jobs and economic opportunity, and lead the world,” Ola CEO and co-founder Bhavish Aggarwal said in a statement.

“The first problem to solve in electric mobility is charging: users need a dependable, convenient, and affordable replacement for the petrol pump. By making electric easy for commercial vehicles that deliver a disproportionate share of kilometers traveled, we can jumpstart the electric vehicle revolution,” added Anand Shah, whose job title is listed as head of Ola Electric Mobility.

The new business spinout comes as Ola continues to raise new capital from investors.

Last month, Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal invested $92 million into the ongoing Series J round that is likely to exceed $1 billion and would value Ola at around $6 billion. Existing backer Steadview Capital earlier committed $75 million but there’s plenty more in development.

A filing — first noted by paper.vc — shows that India’s Competition Commission approved a request for a Temasek-affiliated investment vehicle’s proposed acquisition of seven percent of Ola. In addition, SoftBank offered a term sheet for a prospective $1 billion investment last month, TechCrunch understands from an industry source.

Ola is backed by the likes of SoftBank, Tencent, Sequoia India, Matrix, DST Global and Didi Chuxing. It has raised some $3.5 billion to date, according to data from Crunchbase.

Samsung’s new Galaxy M smartphones will launch in India first

Samsung will launch its new lower-priced Galaxy M series in India before the smartphones roll out globally. Asim Warsi, senior vice president of Samsung India’s smartphone business, told Reuters that three devices will be available through its website and Amazon India at the end of January and are intended to help the company double online sales.

Samsung is currently trying to recover its lead in India, the world’s second-largest smartphone market behind China, after losing it to Xiaomi at the end of 2017, when Xiaomi’s sales in India overtook Samsung for the first time, according to data from both Canalys and Counterpoint.

Xiaomi’s budget Redmi series gave it an advantage since Samsung had a dearth of competitors in the same price bracket, but analysts noted the Korean electronics giant maintains an edge in terms of R&D and supply chain expertise. Samsung leaned into those strengths last year, opening what it describes as the world’s largest mobile phone factory in Noida, just outside of New Delhi.

Specs about the three Galaxy M smartphones emerged last month, with details appearing on platform benchmark Geekbench about devices called M10, M20 and M30, the latter of which may be powered by an Exynos 7885 chip with 4GB ram.

Warsi told Reuters that “the M series has been built around and incepted around Indian millennial consumers.” The price range of Indian-first smartphones will be from less than 10,000 rupees (about $142) to 20,000 rupees. TechCrunch has emailed Samsung for more information about the new phones.

The company will debut the latest version of its flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S10, in San Francisco on Feb. 20.

Ola raises $50M at a $4.3B valuation from two Chinese funds

Ola, the arch-rival of Uber in India, has raised $50 million at a valuation of about $4.3 billion from Sailing Capital, a Hong Kong-based private equity firm, and the China-Eurasian Economic Cooperation Fund (CEECF), a state-backed Chinese fund. The funding was disclosed in regulatory documents sourced by Paper.vc and reviewed by Indian financial publication Mint.

According to Mint, Sailing Capital and CEECF will hold a combined stake of more than 1% in Ola . An Ola spokesperson said the company has no comment.

Ola’s last funding announcement was in October, when it raised $1.1 billion (its largest funding round to date) from Tencent and returning investor SoftBank Group. Ola also said it planned to raise an additional $1 billion from other investors that would take the round’s final amount to about $2.1 billion.

At the time, a source with knowledge of the deal told TechCrunch that Ola was headed toward a post-money valuation of $7 billion once the $2.1 bllion raise was finalized. So while the funding from Sailing Capital and CEECF brings it closer to its funding goal, the latest valuation of $4.3 billion is still lower than the projected amount.

Ola needs plenty of cash to fuel its ambitious expansion both within and outside of India. In addition to ride hailing, Ola got back into the food delivery game at the end of last year by acquiring Foodpanda’s Indian operations to compete with UberEats, Swiggy, Zomato and Google’s Areo. It was a bold move to make as India’s food delivery industry consolidated, especially since Ola had previously launched a food delivery service that shut down after less than one year. To ensure the survival of Foodpanda, Ola poured $200 million into its new acquisition.

A few months later after buying Foodpanda, Ola announced the acquisition of public transportation ticketing startup Ridlr in an all-stock deal. Outside of India, Ola has been focused on a series of international launches. It announced today that it will begin operating in New Zealand, fast on the heels of launches in the United Kingdom and Australia (its first country outside of India) this year.

WeWork China raises $500M to triple the number of cities it covers

WeWork’s China business is getting a fresh injection of capital after it raised $500 million.

The company entered China two years ago and today it covers Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu with nearly 40 locations. It claims 20,000 members, and it is also active in Hong Kong, which technically falls under ‘Greater China.’

The new capital comes from Trustbridge Partners, Singapore’s Temasek, SoftBank, SoftBank’s Vision Fund and Hony Capital. WeWork said it’ll be used for expansion into six new cities: those are Shenzhen, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Chengdu, Nanjing, and Wuhan. This new raise is a Series B, WeWork China previously scored a $500 million Series A last year, which was also when the Chinese entity was founded.

The company has been pretty busy over that 12-month period, most notably it scooped up its largest rival, Naked Hub, in an acquisition deal that is worth a reported $400 million and massively grew its reach.

Naked Hub builds on WeWork’s presence in Greater China by adding 24 office locations and a further 10,000 members. That’s why WeWork China’s figures are so impressive for just two years of operations. Now, this new capital will put WeWork’s own DNA into that network through this planned expansion spree.

“This investment will help WeWork fuel our mission to support creators, small businesses, and large companies across China,” WeWork CEO and co-founder Adam Neumann said in a statement. “WeWork has built an incredible team in China that supports our members every day, serving as a bridge for local companies who want to reach the world as well as for global companies that want to enter the Chinese market.”

Outside of China, WeWork is also making inroads in India — where it launched in 2017 — Korea, Japan (where it operates a joint venture with SoftBank) and Southeast Asia, where it made an acquisition to kick-start its presence. Indeed, WeWork has a float of around $500 million for its operations in Southeast Asia and Korea, although the total pot for India is unknown at this point.

WeWork China’s big raise comes days after Hong Kong’s Campfire pulled in $18 million and Awfis in India raised $20 million.

Korean hotel firm Yanolja moves into Southeast Asia with $15M investment in Zen Rooms

Zen Rooms, the budget hotel network startup founded by Rocket Internet, had faced the deadpool earlier this year after a prospective funding deal collapsed, but now the business appears to have found a home. Korea’s Yanolja, a popular motel brand that has branched out into app-based hotel bookings, has made a strategic investment that could see it fully acquire the business.

Ten-year-old Yanolja is initially paying $15 million for an undisclosed “strategic non-controlling stake,” but it will retain the rights to buy 100 percent of the Zen Rooms business. Zen Rooms clarified that the acquisition is an option and not based on performance or financial metrics.

Founded by a former hotel worker, Lee Su-jin, Yanolja is best known for its lovel hotels although it is trying to clean up the general image of short-stay hotels by promoting them as destinations for business travelers, tourists and families, as noted by a Bloomberg profile story. The company has also grown its own app-based booking service which among the most used in its homeland with 20,000 rooms.

The company is reportedly planning an IPO, so expansion is on its mind.

For those reasons, Zen Rooms fits that new focus. The company borrowed the budget hotel model, first pioneered by SoftBank-backed Oyo in India, and brought it to Southeast Asia when it launched three years ago. The concept is simple, Zen Rooms guarantees minimum standards at all hotels including free WiFi, fresh towels and bedding, hot showers, etc all of which is controlled via a mobile app. Those standards are normal to most hotel stayers, but when traveling in the East, standards can vary wildly especially at budget hotels, which Zen Rooms is focused on.

For hotels, Zen Rooms manages the brand — and sometimes more — and it allows helps them tap the internet to find customers and bookings.

Today, Zen Rooms is active in six cities in Southeast Asia — it had previously also run operations in Brazil, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka — across which it claims to operate 1,000 hotel franchisees with an inventory of more than 7,000 rooms. Its rivals in Southeast Asia include Red Doorz, which raised $11 million earlier this year.

The startup has raised $8 million from investors to date, including a $4.1 million Series A last April that was led by Korea’s Redbadge Pacific and SBI Investment Korea with participation Asia Pacific Internet Group (APACIG), the joint venture fund in Asia between Rocket Internet and Qatari operator Ooredoo.

However, TechCrunch understands that a major funding deal of over $10 million fell apart in Q1 2018 which left the company with a rapidly depleting runway. As a result and as TechCrunch reported in March, the company was aggressively shopped to potential buyers, investors and rival companies in order to keep the business afloat.

Yanolja has come to the rescue but a full buy-out looks like it will be dependent on the company’s future performance, such is often the arrangement with strategic deals made with a view to full ownership. Rocket Internet, which remains a major investor in Zen Rooms, will hope that the deal goes as smoothly as Lazada, its e-commerce service that is now owned by Alibaba.

Lazada ran out of capital in similar circumstances in early 2016 and Alibaba, the Chinese internet giant, came to its aid with a $1 billion investment. Although that was a majority investment it wasn’t a full-on buyoutAlibaba later increased its holdings until it fully owned the business, and today it is a key part of the firm’s overseas expansion strategy.

Already, TechCrunch understands from one source that Zen Rooms has gone on a hiring spree in recent weeks after it closed the deal. It had earlier been forced to make cutbacks to its team as a result of cost-cutting following the collapse of the funding deal earlier in the year.

“We now have the capital to invest,” ZenRooms co-founder Kiren Tanna told TechCrunch. “The deal has been in discussion since earlier this year…. we are treating like an acquisition but this is step one.”

Tanna added that the company plans to focus on five markets in Southeast Asia, and an expansion to Vietnam may be in the pipeline soon.

Online learning platform Unacademy gets $21M Series C from Sequoia India, SAIF and Nexus

Unacademy founders Roman Saini, Gaurav Munjal and Hemesh Singh

Bangalore-based Unacademy will add more educators to its online learning platform, which claims to be India’s largest, after closing a $21 million Series C. The funding comes from Sequoia India, SAIF Partners and Nexus Venture Partners, with participation from Blume Ventures (all four firms are returning from Unacademy’s Series B last year).

Originally a YouTube channel created in 2010 by Gaurav Munjal, Unacademy was officially launched as a startup in 2015 by founders Munjal, Roman Saini and Hemesh Singh. It has now raised $38.6 million in total.

While Unacademy offers a wide range of courses, its most popular offerings include preparation for important exams in India. Its platform includes two apps: one that lets educators create lessons and another that allows users to access them. Unacademy says it has 10,000 registered educators and three million users. Last month, the startup claims 3,000 educators were active on the platform and lessons were watched more than 40 million times.

Many lessons are available for free, though last year Unacademy launched a paid service called Plus that gives users access to features like private discussion forums and live video classes for a per-course fee. Unacademy claims it has achieved six times growth in monthly revenue since launching Plus. The premium classes also help it differentiate from other online learning platforms like Mrunal, a popular site that provides free test preparation for Indian students.

In addition to bringing on more teachers, Unacademy will use its new funding to expand key categories like pre-med, the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) and the Common Admission Test (CAT), which are required by many post-graduate programs.

In a media statement, SAIF partner Alok Goel said “Unacademy has demonstrated tremendous progress towards their goal of delivering personalized learning by connecting great quality educators and students on their platform. The company has diversified across several new domains and has achieved amazing word of mouth among learners.”

Alibaba’s Ant Financial fintech affiliate raises $14 billion to continue its global expansion

Ant Financial, the financial services affiliate connected to Alibaba which operates the Alipay mobile payment service, has confirmed that it has closed a Series C funding round that totals an enormous $14 billion.

The rumors have been flying about this huge financing deal for the past month or so, with multiple publications reporting that Ant — which has been strongly linked with an IPO — was in the market to raise at least $9 billion at a valuation of upwards of $100 billion. That turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg here.

The money comes via a tranche of U.S. dollar financing and Chinese RMB from local investors. Those names include Singapore-based sovereign funds GIC and Temasek, Malaysian sovereign fund Khazanah Nasional Berhad, Warburg Pincus, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Silver Lake and General Atlantic.

Ant said that the money will go towards extending its global expansion (and deepening its presence in non-China markets it has already entered), developing technology and hiring.

“We are pleased to welcome these investors as partners, who share our vision and mission, to embark on our journey to further promote inclusive finance globally and bring equal opportunities to the world. We are proud of, and inspired by, the transformation we have affected in the lives of ordinary people and small businesses over the past 14 years,” Ant Financial CEO and executive chairman Eric Jing said in a statement.

Alibaba itself doesn’t invest in Ant, which it span off shortly before its mega-IPO in the U.S. in 2014, but the company did recently take up an option to own 33 percent of Ant’s shares.

Ant has long been tipped to go public. Back in 2016 when it raised a then blockbuster $4.5 billionlittle did we know it would pull in many multiples more — the company has been reportedly considering a public listing, but it instead opted to raise new capital at a valuation of $60 billion.

It looks like the same again, but with higher stakes. This new Series C round pushes that valuation up to $100 billion, according to Bloomberg. (Ant didn’t comment on its valuation.) So what has Ant done over the past two years to justify that jump?

It has long been a key fintech company in China, where it claims to serve offer 500 million consumers and offers Alipay, digital banking and investment services, but it has begun to replicate that business overseas in recent years. In particular, it has made investments and set up joint-ventures and new businesses in a slew of Asian countries that include India, Thailand, Korea, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The company was, however, unsuccessful in its effort to buy MoneyGram after the U.S. government blocked the $1.2 billion deal.

On the business-side, Ant is said to have posted a $1.4 billion profit over the last year, suggesting it is more than ready to make the leap to being a public firm.

Despite that U.S. deal setback, Ant said today that its global footprint extends to 870 million consumers. I’d take that with a pinch of salt at this point since its business outside of China is in its early stages, but there seems little doubt that it is on the road to replicating its scale in its homeland in many parts of Asia. Raising this huge round only solidifies those plans by providing the kind of capital infusion that tops most of the world’s IPOs in one fell swoop.

“Social selling” startup Meesho lands $11.5M Series B led by Sequoia India

Y Combinator alum Meesho, one of several “social selling” startups gaining speed in India, will add more features to its e-commerce platform after closing a $11.5 million Series B led by Sequoia India. Existing investors SAIF Partners, Y Combinator and Venture Highway also returned for the round, which brings the Bangalore-based startup’s total funding so far to $15 million. Its last round of funding, a $3.4 million Series A, was announced last October.

Like social selling competitors including GlowRoad and Zepo, Meesho’s model combines dropshipping from its wholesale partners with a comprehensive suite of e-commerce tools and services. This reduces overhead while making it easy for sellers, who Meesho says includes many housewives, students and retirees, to set up an online business through WhatsApp, Facebook and other social media.

Meesho’s tools include an online platform that allows sellers to manage purchases and process payments, as well as a network of wholesale suppliers (its main categories are currently fashion and lifestyle items) and logistics providers. In other words, it offers almost everything its vendors need to start selling online. This leaves vendors responsible for customer acquisition, picking what items they want to include in their online shops and marketing them.

This reselling model appeals to small stores, as well as individuals, who want to make more money but don’t want the expense of setting up an e-commerce business from scratch and carrying inventory. Meesho’s rivals include e-commerce startups like GlowRoad, Shopmatic and Zepo, which have also recently raised large funding rounds. All of these companies attract sellers by offering a significant amount of help with order management, payment processing, fulfillment and logistics.

In order to differentiate, chief executive officer Vidit Aatrey, who co-founded Meesho in 2015 with Sanjeev Barnwal, its chief technology officer, tells TechCrunch it focuses on product quality, pricing and personalization to help resellers improve their sales and customer service. Meesho claims that more than 800,000 resellers have used its platform and that a “typical” reseller earns between 20,000 to 25,000 rupees per month (about $298 to $373).

In a press statement about the funding, Sequoia India managing director Mohit Bhatnagar said “Social commerce is the future of e-commerce in India. People buy from people they trust, and that’s what Meesho enables.  Entrepreneurs, many of them women, use the Meesho platform to recommend, customize and sell to their family and friends. Social selling is a huge trend and Sequoia India is excited to partner with Meesho, which is the early leader in this space.”

Aatrey says Meesho’s Series B capital will be used to hire more people for its tech and product teams in order to build a suite of new customer acquisition and selling tools. The startup also plans to add more personalization options for its resellers and product categories.

‘Westworld’ went to imperialist India this week and we didn’t really need it

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Westworld Season 2, episode 3 didn’t begin in any place we’ve seen. The episode opened on what appeared to be colonial India, which we immediately realize is another Delos park: The Raj.

It’s certainly a twist in what fans expected of Season 2 – namely a clamoring for Shogun World – and an interesting choice, to say the least.

The purpose of introducing The Raj – which we may not ever see again – is twofold: First, to see that hosts in other parks are revolting, just as they are in Westworld, and to learn where that monstrously large Bengal tiger came from in episode 1. Read more…

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Ola will add 10,000 electric rickshaws to its India fleet over the next year

Ola announced today that it will add 10,000 electric auto-rickshaws to its fleet in India over the next 12 months. The program, called “Mission: Electric,” is part of its ambitious plan to put one million electric vehicles on the road by 2021. The company launched a trial EV program last year in the city of Nagpur, but has reportedly run into some recent road bumps.

Three-wheel rickshaws are a popular way of making quick trips in many cities and can be hailed through Ola’s app; the company’s electric vehicle trial program in Nagpur, which started in May 2017, already includes rickshaws. As part of “Mission: Electric,” Ola said it will add 10,000 new electric rickshaws across three additional cities this year.

To enable drivers to switch to EVs, Ola’s program also includes infrastructure like rooftop solar panels and charging stations. Last month, however, Factor Daily reported that Ola is scaling back its electric vehicle plans after India’s government appeared to become less enthusiastic about creating an explicit EV policy, despite its previously stated goal of making all new vehicles electric by 2030.

Around the same time, Reuters reported that many Ola drivers participating in its Nagpur trial wanted to switch back to fuel-powered cars because of long waiting times at charging stations and higher operating costs.

An Ola representative told TechCrunch that the company has installed charging dockets at the homes of some drivers so they can save time by swapping out batteries, stating that “with new technologies like battery swapping, the charging experience has been significantly improved.” Ola is currently in discussions with several state and municipal governments about where to launch its electric rickshaw program and is “willing to work with any city committed to sustainable mobility solutions.”

“We have clocked more than four million [electric] kilometers and have learned the ins and outs of vehicles, capabilities and applications. We have learned real-world operating challenges and cost implications of chargers, batteries and solars,” she added. “Deployment of electric vehicles would require support of like-minded partners.”

India just cracked down on cryptocurrency. Hard.

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Indian officials are not here for your cryptocurrency games. 

Government officials with the Reserve Bank of India announced on Thursday that, effective immediately, banks would be prohibited from “dealing with or providing services to any individuals or business entities dealing with or settling virtual currencies.”

Essentially, that means people in India are now unable to move money from bank accounts to exchanges in order to buy cryptocurrency. What’s more, if you’ve sold your fat gains for cash, you are no longer able to move that money back to your bank account. Read more…

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Unusual smoke-breathing elephant baffles scientists

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For scientists conducting long term research on tigers and their prey, catching an elephant smoking is a rather strange sight.

That’s what they discovered when they visited camera trap locations around India’s Nagarahole National Park.

“I believe the elephant may have been trying to ingest wood charcoal,” Varun Goswami, an elephant biologist working with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). “She appeared to be picking up pieces from the forest floor, blowing away the ash that came along with it, and consuming the rest.”

According to WCS, charcoal has toxin-binding properties which could be useful medicinally. It’s also useful as a laxative, serving a purpose after forest fires, lightning strikes, or controlled burns. Read more…

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India-based music streaming service Gaana raises $115M led by Tencent

 Chinese internet giant Tencent is continuing to put its money in India and in music streaming services after it agreed to lead a $115 million investment in India’s Gaana. Gaana is a music streaming service that was started by Times Media, the company behind the Times of India newspaper and tech incubator Times Internet among other things, seven years ago. Gaana didn’t reveal its… Read More

Uber rival Ola buys Foodpanda India to get into food deliveries

 Ola, the Uber rival in India, is entering the food delivery space after it announced a deal to acquire Foodpanda’s India business from its parent company DeliveryHero. The deal will see Ola scoop up the Foodpanda India business with DeliveryHero taking an undisclosed amount of Ola stock in exchange. Undisclosed all-stock deals are usually indicative of a willingness to sell, and we… Read More

Uber’s Indian rival Ola begins offering a bicycle-sharing service

 Ola, the company battling Uber in India, has turned to pedal power after it introduced a bike-sharing service. China’s Didi Chuxing and Grab in Southeast Asia have invested in bike-sharing companies, which offered dock-less bikes that users can pick up across a city and leave anywhere they want when they’re done, and now Ola — which recently raised $1.1 billion in fresh… Read More

Woman creates board game about arranged marriages based on her experience getting out of one

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Nashra Balagamwala was only 18 when she first faced pressure to enter into an arranged marriage.

More than five years later, she’s back with something that has helped her get out of an arranged marriage — a board game.

Arranged! is a board game that follows three women. Their objective? Avoid the matchmaker.

Balagamwala, who’s previously worked for board game giant Hasbro, first came up with the idea of making her game, after making a list of all the things she had done to avoid an arranged marriage.

“Wearing fake engagement rings, getting a tan or being seen with male friends in public, [these are] the things I had done to avoid an arranged marriage myself,” she told Mashable. Read more…

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Chinese state media just released a terribly racist video mocking Indians

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A video released by Chinese state media is turning heads for all the wrong reasons.

The Xinhua News Agency, China’s official press agency, on Wednesday released a video accusing India of committing several “sins.” 

The video features a man dressed in a turban and a fake beard, speaking in a supposed “Indian” accent. 

The video, titled “7 Sins of India“, comes amid months of increasing tensions between China and India over a border dispute, which has become known as the Doklam standoff.

The three-minute long video sees a Chinese presenter explaining the Doklam standoff via a script chiding India, while the Indian “guest star” enacts a mock dialogue to a canned laugh soundtrack. Read more…

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Hike beats WhatsApp to launching messenger app payments in India

 India-focused mobile messaging service Hike landed funding from Tencent last year, and today it took a major step to emulating the Chinese firm’s WeChat app with the introduction of mobile payments. The launch of Hike Pay not only shows an ambition to build a messaging platform, it also means Hike has beaten WhatsApp, the chat app that dominates India, to the punch. Facebook-owned… Read More

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UberEATS starts serving in India, its fourth Asian market

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Uber had announced in January that it was bringing its food delivery service to India, its fastest-growing market in the world. And finally, it’s here. 

UberEATS has rolled out in Mumbai and will soon be taken to five other Indian cities.

India becomes UberEATS’ fourth Asian market, after it launched in Singapore last May, followed by Tokyo (Japan) and Bangkok (Thailand).

Interestingly, Uber’s local rival Ola had started a similar service, Ola Cafe, in 2015 and shut it down a year later after reportedly failing to expand its network of restaurants.   Read more…

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Amazon launches Fire TV Stick in India

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Now that Amazon has put its content catalog in place for Prime Video users in India, the company is ready to expand its ecosystem.

On Wednesday, the company announced that it is bringing the Fire TV Stick to India, only the fifth market for the miniature streaming device.

The company is offering the Fire TV Stick at a price point of Rs 3,999 ($60), with Prime subscribers getting an additional $7.5 discount. 

The Chromecast rival, the Fire TV Stick, offers a range of additional services including built-in apps. Amazon says users can find entertainment apps such as EROS TV, Netflix, Gaana on the device.  Read more…

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India-based doctor booking platform Lybrate quietly raises $3M more

 Indian health tech startup Lybrate has raised $3 million in new funding, according to a filing in the U.S., where it is incorporated.
Lybrate declined to comment on the filing, nor would it provide details of the investors who participated in the round.
Make what you will of that cagey response. The company last raised $10.2 million led by Tiger Global in July 2015, which is some time ago. Read More

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India's first workplace with 'pawternity' leave is here

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Pets require a lot of attention when you first get themLike, a lot

Sometimes you, as an adoptive parent, are compelled to bunk work and tend to your fur babies. Very few workplaces though understand this need to allow “pawternity” time.

But, now there’s one from India, and possibly the country’s first.

Publishing giant HarperCollins India has announced pawternity leave for its pet-adopting employees. Starting this year, they will be entitled to a week’s — or 5 working days’ — paid leave if they have just adopted a pet, HuffPost India reportedRead more…

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WhatsApp will reportedly launch peer-to-peer payments in India within 6 months

 WhatsApp may be about to introduce peer-to-peer payments in India, which is its largest market with over 200 million users. A report from The Ken, an India-based subscription media company that we recently profiled, claims that WhatsApp plans to use UPI, a cross-bank payment system backed by the government, to begin enable payments between users within the next six months. “India is… Read More

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Apple opens App Accelerator in India to foster iOS app development

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Apple is taking further steps to foster the developer ecosystem in the world’s fastest growing smartphone market. 

The Cupertino-based company said it will open a new App Accelerator in Bangalore, India. The announcement comes less than a year after the company said it would open an iOS App Design and Development Accelerator in India’s Silicon Valley. 

Through the new App Accelerator, the company hopes to offer specialised support to developers as well as tools to help them push the boundaries. 

At the centre, a group of experts will lead briefings and provide one-on-one app reviews for developers. The company is calling it “the first-of-its-kind facility” for the nation which already has tens of thousands of developers making apps for iOS.   Read more…

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Truecaller adds payments and Google Duo video calls in move to rival WhatsApp in India

Sweden-based startup Truecaller made its name as a nifty mobile app that helps people fielder out unwanted phone calls and messaging, but now it is making a move to become a platform. At a press event in India, Truecaller’s largest market based on its 150 million users, the company announced a series of partnerships, including a tie-in with Google which will see the U.S.… Read More

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Truecaller gets payment support and Duo integration as it trickles to feature phones

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For Truecaller, an app that offers real-time caller ID and spam protection, the past two years have been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. 

On one hand, the eight-year-old service continues to grow strongly in developing markets, and has also chalked out plans to attract people globally.

On the other hand, several features that made Truecaller so popular are now shipping out of the box with iPhone and Android smartphones. 

So what does the Swedish company doing to survive in the market? Partnerships, mostly, it said today at an event in New Delhi.  Read more…

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India blocks 'The Danish Girl' from airing on TV

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India’s film censorship board has barred Sony Pictures’ channel from telecasting Oscar-recognized film, The Danish Girl. 

The movie was slated to air on Sunday. However, the film authority objected to its supposedly “sensitive storyline” and dubbed it “unsuitable” for audiences below 18.

In The Danish Girl, Eddie Redmayne plays the main character grappling with his gender identity, and is based on historical events of the world’s first sex reassignment surgery.

The broadcaster tweeted: “We regret to inform you that Sony Le Plex HD is unable to telecast the television premiere of the award-winning film The Danish Girl on March 26 as the necessary certification to enable the telecast of the movie has not been received.” Read more…

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Vodafone India confirms it is merging with Idea Cellular to form India’s largest telco

 Vodafone India has confirmed that it has reached an agreement to acquire rival Idea Cellular. The deal, which is being painted as a merger, will create India’s largest operator with some 377 million customers. The company revealed it was in talks with Idea Cellular over a deal in January, and the coming-together was announced today. Subject to the relevant approvals, it is expected… Read More

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Vodafone merges with rival to create India's largest phone network

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Vodafone’s India arm has merged with rival Idea Cellular to form the largest cellular service network in India.

The joint entity will have a subscriber base of nearly 400 million and a revenue market share of 41 percent, according to reports.

India with over a billion mobile connections is presently witnessing a telecom war  triggered by Reliance Jio, a low-cost 4G network started by the country’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani.

Jio, which claims to be offering the cheapest mobile data in the world, has lured 100 million customers in super-quick time, sending shivers down the spine of its peers.  Read more…

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You will soon be able to pay for Netflix using Paytm

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Netflix is about to make it much more convenient for Indians to pay for its monthly subscription. 

The on-demand video streaming service will soon integrate the Paytm mobile wallet service as a payment method, according to two sources familiar with the matter. 

Right now, the company only supports credit cards for payments, the penetration of which remains very low in India. This has been among one of the chief factors in limiting the company’s reach in the country.

The California-based company recently met with several Indian wallet companies who presented their offerings and it has finalised its talks with Paytm, said one source, who requested anonymity.  Read more…

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Qatar Airways is launching in one of the biggest aviation markets in the world

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Qatar Airways, which was running for the title of the world’s longest flight operator last year, is soon launching an airline in India — one of the top ten aviation markets in the world.

QA chief Akbar Al Baker announced at the ITB Berlin Travel Show on Wednesday that the carrier would be making an application to the India government soon, Times of India reports.

The Doha-based airline is owned by the state of Qatar and its operations in India would be in partnership with the investment arm of the Qatar government. Read more…

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Former Indian minister falls for online puppy scam

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A former Indian minister has been duped in an online puppy sale. 

Salman Khurshid, who had served in the previous government, tried buying a pedigree Maltese puppy on a website that was offering them for cheap.

However, that was not to be. This came to light after Khurshid filed a police report against the ecommerce scammer, Press Trust of India reports.

“On February 13, I came across an advertisement on the internet for the sale of two Maltese puppies by one Tonny Wallace for Rs 12,000 ($180) per puppy,” Khurshid said in a complaint filed at a New Delhi police station. Read more…

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Samsung Pay is now live in India

 Samsung Pay has launched in India where it is working on selected devices, according to a report from Sam Mobile. The Korean firm had teased its entry to India’s payments market last month, but now it has rolled out with support for banks Axis, HDFC, ICICI, SBI, and Standard Chartered, and credit and debit cards from MasterCard and Visa. Beyond traditional financial organizations,… Read More

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India hoists its tallest flag at the border but some are highly unimpressed

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Indians have a new selfie spot to show off their national pride. 

The Tricolor was hoisted on the country’s tallest flag post (360 feet) at the Indo-Pak Attari Border on Sunday. And in no time, locals and tourists thronged the venue to witness the sight.

The 120-feet-long and 80-feet-wide flag was unveiled by a member of India’s ruling political party.

India’s tallest (350 feets high) National Flag hosted at the reception Centre of Wagah Border today. Jai Hind 🇮🇳🇮🇳 pic.twitter.com/3NDn5PCwDM

— Kamal Sharma (@kamalsharmabjp) March 5, 2017 Read more…

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Ideal Boy, An: Charts from India

Cheap visual charts were the main educational aid in Indian classrooms until recently. Meant to teach children good behavior, and to assist their reading skills, these inexpensive posters were plastered everywhere by local printers. They have a naive art aesthetic since the artists were unschooled themselves. Generally the charts follow a formula of filing in a grid with examples. Like comic books, their garish colors and simple forms have their own innocent charm. This book rounds up a hundred samples of what is now a rare folk art.

Ideal Boy, An: Charts from India

by Sirish Rao, V. Geetha, Gita Wolf (Editors)

Dewi Lewis Publishing

2001, 120 pages, 6.9 x 1.0 x 9.4 inches, Hardcover

$7 Buy on Amazon

See other cool books at Wink.

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LeEco slashes India headcount but denies it will exit the country

161122_leeco Ambitious Chinese tech firm LeEco is downsizing its presence in India less than six months after founder Jia Yueting warned that the growth of some parts of its business had become unsustainable. The company confirmed to TechCrunch that it has reduced its headcount in the country from over to 350 staff to a total of 80 today. A spokesperson said the size of the team is now “in line… Read More

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One more gaffe for India's national airline and people can't stop rubbing it in

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Fault in the stars? Or perhaps in the skies? 

Because nothing seems to be going right for India’s national airline, Air India. First, it was pilloried for choosing to reserve seats for women. Then, a London hotel shamed its cabin crew for taking away buffet food in lunchboxes. And now, this. 

Two of Air India’s engineers forgot a basic step thus forcing an aircraft to make an emergency landing, the Press Trust of India reported

A Delhi-Cochin flight which took off from Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport early Monday morning had to be grounded forcibly within 40 minutes because the engineers had “forgotten” to remove pins from the landing gear, thus making it impossible for the pilot to retract the aircraft’s wheels.   Read more…

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Hyperloop One begins initial talks with the Indian government

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Hyperloop One’s high-speed transportation solution could reach India in the near future. That’s the plan, at least.

Hyperloop One executives, including CEO Rob Lloyd and chief chairman Shervin Pishevar spent three hours in a room packed of Indian government officials and journalists on Tuesday. That’s how keen they are to bring Elon Musk’s idea to the country. 

Although at the first sight, they don’t look as the perfect match (India is known for its archaic regulations, over-crowded roads and poorly-designed urban areas), the two have begun talking.

At the event, India’s railway minister, Suresh Prabhu, said the government is open to further discussions and definitely sees the need for Hyperloop One’s high-speed trains. “Though we are not hyper about it,” he joked. Read more…

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Crunch Report | 1 Billion Hours of YouTube A Day

AWS outage is affecting a lot of websites, like Quora and Giphy, humans are watching about 1 billion hours a day of YouTube, Hyperloop could be coming to India and Lux Capital closes a $400 million fund. All this on Crunch Report. Read More

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ISRO will now look for new bodies of water in India's Silicon Valley

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The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) recently set a world record by launching 104 satellites at one go, but their next venture will be discovering new lakes in India’s Silicon Valley, according to reports.  

SEE ALSO: Lake catches fire in India’s Silicon Valley yet again

Bangalore is said to have had over 1,000 lakes once upon a time. But environmental pollution and urban development has reduced that number by half. Only 478 lakes remain currently, according to state records. 

But there could be more. And the state wants to ascertain that, with the Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority (KLCDA) bringing ISRO on board for the project. Read more…

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India's Paytm hits 200 million mobile wallet users

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In a country where cash is still king, a mobile app that offers online transactions is seeing 700,000 new users join the platform each day.

India’s Paytm has hit 200 million wallet users, CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma said Monday.

With this milestone reached, Sharma is also setting his company a new goal to get half a billion Indians to do online transactions using his app in the next four years. 

Even though the six-year-old mobile wallet app has been fairly popular among urban Indians for years, it wasn’t until November last year when prime minister Narendra Modi declared the vast majority of cash invalid in the country that its relevance skyrocketed. Read more…

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How one startup peon had a real-life Slumdog Millionaire moment

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As you sow so shall you reap. 

The old English proverb came to life for Mumbai-based Shyam Kumar, a peon at mobile wallet firm Citrus Pay. He became a millionaire after his employer was acquired by Naspers-backed online payments company PayU in a $130 million deal last year.

42-year-old Kumar, a migrant from Uttar Pradesh, had joined Citrus Pay for a salary of Rs. 8,000 ($120) in 2010 when it was a lesser-known entity and e-commerce in India was just about finding its feet. 

After the Naspers buyout, he was rewarded with employee stock options for his unwavering loyalty to Citrus Pay, helping him earn Rs. 5 million ($75,000) in the process!  Read more…

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One telecom carrier is fixing a major privacy problem you probably don't know about

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A telecom operator is trying to fix a major privacy problem that many of us are unaware about. 

Vodafone, India’s second largest telecom operator by subscribers, has introduced a new way for its subscribers, especially women, to top up talktime credit to their phones without disclosing their phone number to strangers. 

The new program, called Private Recharge Mode, allows people to add credit to their phones with a unique code instead of their phone number.   

It might sound like a non-issue to many, but in India, where over 90% of the billion mobile phone users are on prepaid connection, walk into mom-and-pop shops and hand out their phone numbers to top up their accounts.  Read more…

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India’s top mobile operator Airtel is buying smaller rival Telenor

bharti-airtel Less than a month after Vodafone confirmed it is in talks to merge with Idea Cellular and create India’s largest mobile operator, one piece of M&A has been confirmed in that space. Bharti Airtel has gobbled up smaller player Telenor India in a deal announced today. The Airtel-Telenor deal is subject to regulatory approvals, but both sides said it should be completed within the next… Read More

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Watch a man smash 124 coconuts in less than a minute. With his bare hands.

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It’s not that we have any personal vendetta against coconuts. But the amount of effort you need to invest to break them open is a deal-breaker for many of us. If you’re one such soul, you’ve just found a new friend in Abeesh Domanic.

To say Domanic, 25, is good with coconuts would be an understatement. The resident of Southern Indian state of Kerala last week smashed all the world records when he cracked open 124 coconuts in less than one minute. With his bare hands. 

I know what you’re thinking: If there’s ever a John Wick adaption in India, we would want to see Domanic in it. But until that happens, all we have is the video of him and coconuts not getting along very well. Read more…

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