Overblown fears that the coronavirus could be transmitted through surfaces have created a stigma around handling nonhazardous trash, experts say. Some recyclable waste has been junked or burned.
Founded in 2013, Bangladesh’s Chaldal was one of the first grocery delivery startups in the world to use the “dark” store model, picking up orders from its own warehouses instead of retail stores. Now the company says it is the country’s second-largest grocery player and the largest grocery e-commerce platform, with 27 warehouses located in four cities. Chaldal plans to expand into 15 new cities with a recently-closed $10 million Series C. The round was led by Taavet Hinrikus, co-founder of Wise; Topia chief product officer Sten Tamkivi; and Xploration Capital, with participation from Mir Group.
When Chaldal launched in Dhaka eight years ago, it first picked up orders from local grocery stores. But most retailers in the city are very small and Chaldal was unable to guarantee items would be available for its customers. As a result, it decided to start building its own network of warehouses.
“When we started, Instacart was still the dominant model, but we took a different stand and said we want to deliver from our own warehouses because that leads to better inventory management,” co-founder and chief executive officer Waseem Alim told TechCrunch.
Now the company, a Y Combinator alum, has 27 warehouses located in four cities (Dhaka, Naryanganj, Chattogram and Jashore). It will expand to 15 new cities and plans to open 50 warehouses by the end of this year. In addition to its flagship grocery deliveries, Chaldal will expand GoGo Bangla, its on-demand logistics service for small e-commerce businesses, and the Chaldal Vegetable Network, which connects farmers directly to retailers. It also has plans to launch a direct-to-consumer pharmacy.
Chaldal claims that has generated $40 million in revenue and performed 2.5 million orders over the past 12 months, growing about 120% year-over-year. It currently sells about 8,500 kinds of products and wants to expand that to 30,000 SKUs by December.
Alim says Chaldal’s core grocery operations have been profitable for a while now, and it only invests cash in building its technology or launching new verticals. One of the reasons it is able to make money is because Chaldal began batching deliveries early on, sending out riders from its full-time fleet with several orders at a time (it recently launched a part-time driver program). Batching also means Chaldal is able to offer deliveries in as little as 15 to 30 minutes.
Chaldal also worked closely with suppliers and manufacturers. “We are one of the most efficient online grocery retailers in the world in terms of amount of capital that has been invested in us versus our size, and that’s mainly because we have been really working with our supply chain and all those details,” Alim said.
For example, it sources produce directly from farms, and partners with large manufacturers like Unilever. “Walmart and stores like that don’t exist here, it’s mostly small retailers, so we’ve been able to have a huge impact on the supply chain side of things,” said Alim. “We are continuing to expand our micro-warehouse model and have started supporting, as part of the delivery mechanism we have built, a lot of small merchants,” including many sellers who signed up for GoGo Bangla during the pandemic.
ShopUp, a startup that is digitizing neighborhood stores in Bangladesh, has raised $75 million in a new financing round that is also the largest in the South Asian market.
Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures led ShopUp’s $75 million Series B financing round. Prosus Ventures as well as existing investors Flourish Ventures, Sequoia Capital India, and VEON Ventures also invested in the round. The new investment, which brings the startup’s all-time raise to over $100 million, is also Prosus’ first deal in Bangladesh, home to over 100 million internet users.
Like its neighboring nation, India, more than 95% of all retail in Bangladesh goes through neighborhood stores in the country. There are about 4.5 million such mom-and-pop stores in the country and the vast majority of them have no digital presence.
As is the case in India, Pakistan and several other Asian countries, these small shops face a number of challenges in Bangladesh. They don’t have access to a large catalog for inventory selection and they can’t negotiate good pricing and faster delivery. And for these small retailers, more than two-thirds of all their sales are still processed on credit instead of cash or digital payments, creating a massive liquidity crunch. So most of these businesses are in dire need of working capital.
ShopUp is attempting to address these challenges. It has built what it calls a full-stack business-to-business commerce platform. The startup provides a number of core services to these stores including a wholesale marketplace to secure inventory, logistics (including last-mile delivery to customers) and working capital. (Like many startups in India, ShopUp has banking and other partners to provide working capital.)
In the past one year, the startup has expanded its offerings and deepened its footprints within Bangladesh, said Afeef Zaman, co-founder and chief executive of ShopUp, in an interview with TechCrunch. For instance, it has partnered with country’s largest manufacturers, producers and distributors to secure and supply inventories to small shops, he said.
The startup, like several others, was hit by the pandemic, but as the country begins to open up, ShopUp is beginning to see recovery, he said. Overall, business has grown over 13 times in the past one year, he said.
“The leadership team at ShopUp has shown strong execution capabilities over the last twelve months. They became clear market leaders with double digit growth across three products built for the underserved small businesses in Bangladesh. In fast-growing frontier economies like Bangladesh, small businesses are the primary driver of the economy. We are excited to partner with Afeef’s vision of building a connected ecosystem of products to fast-track their transition to the online economy,” said James Fitzgerald, founding partner of Valar Ventures, in a statement.
Zaman said the past one year has accelerated the adoption of technology among these small shops. “They are using several internet-based services now. Not just ShopUp, but also messaging, and virtual payments,” he said. “We expect this to continue going forward.”
The Dhaka-headquartered startup, which has an office in Bangalore, where the large portion of its tech and engineering talent is based, plans to deploy the fresh funds in part to expand its team. As part of the new round, Zaman said the startup has expanded its employee stock option pool by three times.
“This investment marks our entry into Bangladesh – among the fastest-growing economies in the past decade. ShopUp has demonstrated strong execution focus in solving for a cross-section of needs for small businesses in a fragmented market. We are thrilled to support their efforts to empower millions of retailers and enable them to participate in the country’s economic growth,” said Ashutosh Sharma, Head of Investments for India at Prosus Ventures, in a statement.
This is a developing story. More to follow…
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In Bangladesh, students often rely on after school learning centers for study help or test preparation, but many of the best ones are concentrated in major cities. Edtech startup Shikho was created to make supplementary education more accessible and affordable. The company announced today it has closed a $1.3 million seed round co-led by returning investor LearnStart (the seed fund of edtech investment firm Learn Capital) and Anchorless Bangladesh.
The round also included participation from Wavemaker Partners and Ankur Nagpal, founder and chief executive officer of online course platform Teachable. Shikho’s last round of funding was $275,000 in pre-seed financing last year from LearnStart and strategic angel investors.
Founded in April 2019, Shikho is focused on grades 9, 10, 11 and 12, with plans to introduce content for grades 6 up to university level and continuous education. Its learning material, created by educators and subject experts, is based on the Bangladeshi National Curriculum. To keep students engaged, it uses gamification techniques, like points, leaderboards and virtual awards.
Shikho was founded in April 2019 by CEO Shahir Chowdhury, who previously worked in finance and business, including as a director at HSBC UK’s Private Bank, and chief operating officer Zeeshan Zakaria, who also worked in finance before becoming a mathematics teacher.
Both grew up in Dhaka before moving to the United Kingdom, where they went to university. Chowdhury told TechCrunch that even while working in finance, his goal was to launch a socially impactful business in Bangladesh.
At first, Chowdhury looked at fintech because of his career experience, but realized there were already many players focused on financial inclusion in Bangladesh, like bKash. He started thinking about education–Chowdhury’s father is a retired professor and his mother still teaches high school. Then by coincidence, he worked on a client report about the emergence of Indian and Chinese edtech startups, like Byju’s and Toppr.
“I tried to understand what edtech was and why it was working in those markets and why it didn’t exist in Bangladesh,” said Chowdhury. “When I looked at that closely, there was no reason for it not to exist in Bangladesh. From an macroeconomic perspective, you have all the elements you need. You have a very large population, about 165 million people, and half of that is under the age of 25.”
Chowdhury reached out to Zakaria to lead Shikho’s academic programming. Shikho’s goal is to find more engaging and effective ways to teach students material from the Bangladesh National Curriculum.
“Not much has changed since my dad was in grade 10 in terms of the syllabus,” said Zakaria. “I’m not a politician, so I can’t bring about change there, but I can change how it’s delivered. We deliver the curriculum in a way that has never been seen before in terms of the pedagogical experience.”
Shikho launched about a year before the COVID-19 pandemic began, but that didn’t change its approach to product development because it was always meant to be an online learning platform.
The company works with educators to create content, including animated videos that break down topics into short segments of about six minutes each to help students learn at their own pace. Each video is supplemented with digital resources called smart notes to replace the guidebooks many students buy for studying, and practice questions with detailed solutions.
Shikho’s main video content is pre-recorded, but it will also launch live classes for its app and web portal in about six weeks. The company’s new funding will allow it to scale-up content production, including an app for parents.
One of the biggest challenges for online learning platforms is keeping students motivated. Chowdhury said Shikho’s gamification system was inspired by the Nike Run Club app. Similar to how Nike Run Club users get points every time they go on a run, Shikho gives students points when they log in, do a test or watch a video. The points can be collected for milestones ranging from beginner to “legend,” and special badges are awarded for accomplishments like finishing a test quickly and accurately.
The point system also feeds into a leaderboard, so students can see how many points they have compared to other Shikho users at their school, or on the entire app.
The app is free to use for seven days. One of the company’s plans for its new funding is to launch more freemium content to increase user conversions into paying customers. Chowdhury says that paying users have high engagement rates, typically spending about 45 to 50 minutes daily in the app. Shikho plans to double-down on its user acquisition strategy, including offline sales teams in front of schools, at the end of the year after launching its app for parents.
“Students are the users and the actual customers are their parents, so we’re conscious that we’re going to have to flip communication to the parents,” said Chowdhury. “That’s part of what this funding round is for.”
In statement about investment, Anchorless Bangladesh founding partner and CEO Rahat Ahmed said, “Bangladesh has one of the largest allocations of private education expenditure as a percentage of disposable income in the world, but lags behind countries like India and Indonesia when it comes to edtech funding. The market is primed for growth and we believe the team at Shikho is well-fit to lead the charge and take education to the next level.”
Amid a surge in coronavirus cases, farmers and families in Bangladesh have turned to online marketplaces to buy and sell millions of animals for sacrifice during the festival of Eid al-Adha.
The highly contagious Delta variant is on the rise, and countries that hoped they had seen the worst of Covid-19 are being battered again.
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Based in Bangladesh, Maya is dedicated to making it easier for women to get healthcare, especially for sensitive issues like reproductive and mental health. The startup announced today it has raised $2.2 million in seed funding. The round, which Maya said is the largest raised by a Bangladeshi health tech company so far, was led by early-stage fund Anchorless Bangladesh and The Osiris Group, a private equity firm focused on impact investing in Asian markets.
The funding will be used to introduce new products to Maya’s telehealth platform and expand into more countries. Maya recently launched in Sri Lanka and plans to expand into India, Pakistan, Middle Eastern markets and Indonesia.
Maya uses natural language processing and machine learning technology for its digital assistant, which answers basic health-related questions and decides if users need to be routed to human experts. It has about 10 million unique users and currently counts more than 300 licensed healthcare providers on its platform.
Founder and chief executive officer Ivy Huq Russell, who grew up in Chittagong and Dhaka before moving to the United Kingdom for university, started Maya as a blog with healthcare information in 2011. At the time, Russell worked in finance. She had just given birth to her first child and her mother had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. Russell told TechCrunch she realized how many challenges there were to seeking medical care in Bangladesh, including financial barriers, a shortage of providers and long travel times to clinics.
She began Maya with the goal of providing trustworthy health information, but quickly realized that the site’s visitors needed more support. Many sent messages through WhatsApp, email or the site’s chat box, including survivors of sexual abuse, rape and domestic violence. After receiving a grant from BRAC, a Bangladeshi non-governmental organization, Maya’s team began developing an app to connect users with medical information and experts.
“We were very focused on two things,” Russell said. “One is how do we built trust in our community, in their language, because it’s very important that they communicate in the language that they’re comfortable using. At the same time, we realized as soon as we started getting hundreds and hundreds of questions, that we’re not going to be able to scale up if we just have 50 experts on computers typing.”
To support Bengali and regional dialects, Maya spent more than two years focused on developing its natural language processing technology. It collaborated with data scientists and linguists and took part in Google Launchpad’s accelerator program, working on tokenization and training its machine learning algorithms. Now Maya is able to provide automated answers in Bengali to basic questions in 50 topics with about 95% accuracy, Russell said. Out of the four million queries the platform has handled so far, about half were answered by its AI tech.
Many have to do with sexual or reproductive health and the platform has also seen an increase in questions about mental health. These are topics users are often hesitant seeking in-person consultations for.
“Growing up in Bangladesh, we got minimum sexual education. There’s no curriculum at school. Recently in the last one or two years, we’ve also started to see a lot of mental health questions, because I think we’ve made a good drive toward talking about mental health,” said Russell. She added, “it’s quite natural that whatever they couldn’t go and ask a question about very openly in traditional healthcare systems, they come and ask us.”
More consultations are coming from men, too, who now make up about 30% of Maya’s users. Many ask questions about birth control and family planning, or how to support their partners’ medical issues. To protect users’ privacy, consultations are end-to-end encrypted, and experts only see a randomly-generated ID instead of personal information.
In order to understand if someone needs to be routed to a human expert, Maya’s algorithms considers the length, complexity and urgency of queries, based on their tone. For example, if someone types “please, please, please help me,” they automatically get directed to a person. The majority of questions about mental health are also sent to an expert.
Russell said Maya’s approach is to take a holistic approach to physical health and mental wellness, instead of treating them as separate issues.
“People don’t just ask about physical health issues. They also ask things like, ‘I wear a hijab and I want to go for a run, but I feel really awkward,’” said Russell. “It sounds like a very normal question, but it’s actually quite a loaded question, because it’s affecting their mental health on a day-to-day basis.”
One of the company’s goals is to make the app feel accessible, so people feel more comfortable seeking support. “We’ve literally have had sweets delivered to our office when a user has a baby,” Russell said. “These are the personal touches that I think Maya has delivered in terms of dealing with both physical as well as mental health conditions combined together.”
The company is currently working with different monetization models. One is business-to-business sales, positioning Maya as a software-as-a-service platform that employers can offer to workers as a benefit. Garment manufacturing is one of Bangladesh’s biggest export sectors, and many workers are young women, fitting Maya’s typical user profile. The startup has worked with Marks and Spencer, Primark and the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturer and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
Another B2B route is partnering with insurance providers who offer Maya as a benefit. On the direct-to-consumer side, Maya recently launched premium services, including in-app video consultations and prescription delivery. Demand for consultations increased sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it now handles about 300,000 video visits a month. Russell expects many users to continue using telehealth services even after the pandemic subsides.
“They’ve really seen the advantage of just having a doctor right in front of you,” she said. “For people with chronic conditions, it’s easier because they don’t have to go somewhere every week, and the fact they have monitoring and their history gathered is helpful for regular users, too.”
The blaze comes as officials in Bangladesh look for longer-term solutions for the refugees from Myanmar, who fled anti-Muslim violence.
Moderna, the biotech company behind one of the two mRNA-based vaccines currently being rolled out globally to stem the tide of COVID-19, has announced that it will purse development programs around three new vaccine candidates in 2021. These include potential vaccines for HIV, seasonal flu and the Nipah virus. Moderna’s development and clinical trial of its COVID-19 vaccine is among the fastest in history, and thus far its results have been very promising, buoying hopes for the efficacy of other preventative treatments being generated using this technology which is new to human clinical use.
An mRNA vaccine differs from typical, historical vaccines because it involves providing a person with just a set of instructions on how to build specific proteins that will trigger a body’s natural defenses. The mRNA instructions, which are temporary and do not affect a person’s actual DNA, simply prompt the body’s cells to produce proteins that mirror those used by a virus to attach to and infect cells. The independent proteins are then fought off by a person’s natural immune response, which provides a lasting lesson in how to fight off any future proteins that match that profile, including those which help viruses attach to and infect people.
Moderna’s new programs will target not only seasonal flu, but also a combinatory vaccine that could target both the regular flu and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that leads to COVID-19. The HIV candidate, which is developed in collaboration with both the AIDS Vaccine Initiative and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is expected to enter into Phase 1 trials this year, as will the flue face. Nipah virus is a highly lethal illness that can cause respiratory and neurological symptoms, and which is particularly a threat in India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Singapore.
mRNA-based vaccines have long held potential for future vaccine development, in part because of their flexibility and programmability, and in part because they don’t use any active or dormant virus, which reduces their risks in terms of causing any direct infections up front. The COVID-19 pandemic spurred significant investment and regulatory/health and safety investment into the technology, paving the way for its use in other areas, including these new vaccine candidate trials by Moderna.
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A startup that is aiming to digitize millions of neighborhood stores in Bangladesh just raised the country’s largest Series A financing round.
Dhaka-headquartered ShopUp said on Tuesday it has raised $22.5 million in a round co-led by Sequoia Capital India and Flourish Ventures. For both the venture firms, this is the first time they are backing a Bangladeshi startup. Veon Ventures, Speedinvest, and Lonsdale Capital also participated in the four-year-old ShopUp’s Series A financing round. ShopUp has raised about $28 million to date.
Like its neighboring nation, India, more than 95% of all retail in Bangladesh goes through neighborhood stores in the country. There are about 4.5 million such mom-and-pop stores in the country and the vast majority of them have no digital presence.
ShopUp is attempting to change that. It has built what it calls a full-stack business-to-business commerce platform. It provides three core services to neighborhood stores: a wholesale marketplace to secure inventory, logistics (including last mile delivery to customers), and working capital, explained Afeef Zaman, co-founder and chief executive of ShopUp, in an interview with TechCrunch.
These small shops are facing a number of challenges. They are not getting inventory on time or enough inventory and they are paying more than what they should, said Zaman. And for these businesses, more than 73% (PDF) of all their sales rely on credit instead of cash or digital payments, creating a massive liquidity crunch. So most of these businesses are in dire need of working capital.
Zaman declined to reveal how many mom-and-pop shops today use ShopUp, but claimed that the platform assumes a clear lead in its category in the country. That lead has widened amid the global pandemic as more physical shops explore digital offerings to stay afloat, he said.
The number of neighborhood shops transacting weekly on the ShopUp platform grew by 8.5 times between April and August this year, he said. The pandemic also helped ShopUp engage with e-commerce players to deliver items for them.
“Sequoia India has been a strong supporter of the company since it was part of the first Surge cohort in early 2019 and it’s been exciting to see the company become a trailblazer facilitating digital transformation in Bangladesh,” said Klaus Wang, VP, Sequoia Capital, in a statement.
The startup has no intention to become an e-commerce platform like Amazon that directly engages with consumers, Zaman said. E-commerce is still in its nascent stage in Bangladesh. Amazon has yet to enter the country and increasingly Facebook is filling that role.
ShopUp sees immense opportunity in serving neighborhood stores, he said. The startup plans to deploy the fresh capital to deepen its partnerships with manufacturers and expand its tech infrastructure.
It opened an office in Bengaluru earlier this year to hire local tech talent in the nation. Indian e-commerce platform Voonik merged with ShopUp this year and both of its co-founders have joined the Bangladeshi startup. Zaman said the startup will hire more engineering talent in India.
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India, the world’s second most populated nation, sees more than 20% of the global flood-related fatalities each year as overrun riverbanks sweep tens of thousands of homes with them. Two years ago, Google volunteered to help.
In 2018, the company began its flood forecasting pilot initiative in Patna — the capital of the Indian state of Bihar, which has historically been the most flood-prone region in the nation with over 100 fatalities each year — to provide accurate real-time flood forecasting information to people in the region.
The company’s AI model analyzes historical flood data gleaned from several river basins in different parts of the world to make accurate prediction for any river basin.
For this project, Google has not worked in isolation. Instead, it has collaborated with India’s Central Water Commission, Israel Institute of Technology, and Bar-Ilan University. It also works with the Indian government to improve how New Delhi collects data on water levels. They have installed new, electronic sensors that automatically transmit data to water authorities.
Thrilled by the initial results, two years later, Google’s Flood Forecasting Initiative now covers all of India, Google announced on Tuesday.
The company also said it has partnered with the Water Development Board of Bangladesh, which sees more floods than any other country in the world, to expand its initiative to parts of India’s neighboring nation. This is the first time Google is bringing Flood Forecasting Initiative outside of India.
Part of the job is to deliver this potentially life-changing information to people. In India, the company said it has sent out more tthan 30 million notifications to date in flood-affected areas. It says its initiative can help better protect more than 200 million people across more than 250,000 square kilometers (96,525 square miles). In Bangladesh, Google’s model is able to cover more than 40 million people and the company is working to extend this to the whole nation.
“We’re providing people with information about flood depth: when and how much flood waters are likely to rise. And in areas where we can produce depth maps throughout the floodplain, we’re sharing information about depth in the user’s village or area,” wrote Yossi Matias, VP of Engineering and Crisis Response Lead at Google.
Along the way, the company said it worked with Yale and found that there was room for more improvement.
This year, Google said it overhauled the way its alerts look and function to make it more accessible to people. It also added support for Hindi, Bengali, and seven other locaal languages, and further customized the messaging in the alerts. It has also rolled out a new forecasting model that doubles the warning time of many of its alerts.
Moving forward, the company said its charitable arm Google.org has started a collaboration with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to build local networks and deliver alerts to people who otherwise wouldn’t receive smartphone alerts directly.
“There’s much more work ahead to strengthen the systems that so many vulnerable people rely on—and expand them to reach more people in flood-affected areas. Along with our partners around the world, we will continue developing, maintaining and improving technologies and digital tools to help protect communities and save lives,” wrote Matias.
Google said on Wednesday it has expanded its jobs app, called Kormo Jobs, to India as the Search giant looks to offer a helping hand to millions looking for entry-level roles and further displace Microsoft’s LinkedIn relevance in the world’s second largest internet market.
The company first launched Kormo Jobs in Bangladesh in 2018 and expanded it to Indonesia last year. Also last year, Google made Kormo available in India under the brand Jobs as a Spot on Google Pay app.
Since making Jobs available as a Spot, Google says a number of companies including Zomato and Dunzo — a Bangalore-based startup it has invested in — have posted over 2 million verified jobs on the platform.
Google said today it is rebranding Jobs Spot on Google Pay as Kormo Jobs in India and also making its standalone Android app available in one of its key overseas markets.
In addition to helping users identify open calls for entry-level roles, Kormo Jobs app is also designed to help them learn new skills, and easily create a CV.
Bickey Russell, Regional Manager and Operations Lead at Kormo Jobs, said the company will continue to invest in bringing new features and jobs to the app in the future.
“In the wake of the pandemic, the jobs landscape stands altered, with demand shifting to new services that require different sets of skills and experience. Businesses of all sizes face the challenges of the new normal, while job seekers are having to adapt to this shift quickly,” wrote Russell in a blog.
“We are heartened to be able to play a helpful role in facilitating connections to impact lives for the better, including introducing important features like remote interviewing earlier this year to ensure social distancing,” he added.
The move further illustrates Google’s growing interest in courting a big slice of the job-related search-queries. The company launched a jobs search search engine in 2017 in the U.S., which it has expanded to several markets since. Earlier this month, it rolled out a virtual visiting card feature in India.
Google’s push into this category stands to hurt LinkedIn, which does not have a strong presence in emerging markets. In India, for instance, LinkedIn had about 24 million monthly active users on Android in the month of July, according to App Annie, up from about 22 million during the same period a year ago. Google reaches about 400 million users in India.
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As the pandemic destroys paychecks, migrant workers are sending less money home, threatening an increase in poverty from South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa to Eastern Europe and Latin America.
Bangladesh’s regulator has ordered telecom operators and other internet providers in the nation to stop providing free access to social media services, becoming the latest market in Asia to take a partial stand against zero-rating deals.
Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, the local regulator, said late last week that it had moved to take this decision because free usage of social media services had spurred their misuse by some people to commit crimes. Local outlet Business Standard first reported about the development. Bangladesh is one of the largest internet markets in Asia with more than 100 million online users.
Technology companies such as Facebook and Twitter have struck partnerships, more popularly known as zero rating deals, with telecom operators and other internet providers in several markets in the past decade to make their services free to users to accelerate growth. Typically, tech companies bankroll the cost of data consumption of users as part of these deals.
In Bangladesh, such zero rating deals have been popular for several years, said Ahad, chief executive of Bongo, an on-demand streaming service, in an interview with TechCrunch.
Grameenphone and Robi Axiata, two of the largest telecom operators in Bangladesh, enable their mobile subscribers to access a handful of services of their partners even when their phones have run out of credit. Both telecom firms have said they are in the process to comply with Dhaka’s order.
It remains unclear whether Free Basics, a program run by Facebook in dozens of markets through which it offers unlimited access to select services at no cost, will continue its presence in Bangladesh after the nation’s order. Facebook relies on telecom networks to offer data access for its Free Basics program.
In Bangladesh, Facebook struck deals with Grameenphone and Robi Axiata, according to its official website, where Facebook continues to identify Bangladesh among dozens of markets where Free Basics is operational.
Several nations in recent years have balked at zero rating arrangements — though they have often cited different reasons. India banned Free Basics in early 2016 on the grounds that Facebook’s initiative was violating the principles of net neutrality.
Free Basics also ended its program in Myanmar and several other markets in 2017 and 2018. Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.
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A sprawling 645,000-square-meter data facility is going up on the top of the world to power data exchange between China and its neighboring countries in South Asia.
The cloud computing and data center, perched on the plateau city Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, and developed by private tech firm Ningsuan Technologies, has entered pilot operation as it announced the completion of the first construction phase, China’s state news agency Xinhua reported (in Chinese) on Sunday.
Northeast of the Himalayas, Tibet was incorporated as an autonomous region of China in 1950. Over the decades, the Chinese government has been grappling with demand from many Tibetans for more religious freedom and human rights in one of its most critical regions for national security.
The plateau is now a bridge for China to South Asia under the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing’s ambitious global infrastructure project. Ningsuan, a Tibet-headquartered company with data control centers in Beijing and research teams in Nanjing, is betting on the increasing trade and investment activity between China and India, Nepal, Bangladesh and other countries that are part of the BRI.
This generates the need for robust IT infrastructure in the region to support data transmission, Hu Xiao, Ningsuan’s general manager, contended in a previous media interview.
While hot days and spotty power supply in certain South Asian regions incur higher costs for running data centers, Tibet, like the more established data hub in Guizhou province, is a natural data haven thanks to its temperate climate and low average temperature that are ideal for keeping servers cool.
Construction of the Lhasa data center began in 2017 and is scheduled for completion around 2025 or 2026, a grand investment that will total almost 12 billion yuan or $1.69 billion. The cloud facility is estimated to generate 10 billion yuan in revenue each year when it goes into full operation.
Alibaba has skin in the game as well. In 2018, the Chinese e-commerce giant, which has a growing cloud computing business, sealed an agreement (in Chinese) with Ningsuan to bring cloud services to industries in the Tibetan region that span electricity supply, finance, national security, government affairs, public security, to cyberspace.
As the West settles into a grinding battle with the disease, the virus surges across the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and South Asia.
Vaccinations worldwide have dropped as the fight against the coronavirus continues.
Extreme weather presents an even bigger threat when economies are crashing and ordinary people are stretched to their limits.
The worst damage was reported in the Indian state of West Bengal, home to the metropolis Kolkata and many small, coastal villages.
Facebook has rolled out a new safety feature in India that will enable users to easily lock their account so that people they are not friends with on the platform cannot view their posts and zoom into and download their profile picture and cover photo.
The feature is especially aimed at women to give them more control over their Facebook experience, the company said. “We are deeply aware of the concerns people in India, particularly women, have about protecting their online profile,” said Ankhi Das, Public Policy Director at Facebook India, in a statement.
Locking the profile applies multiple existing privacy settings and several new measures to a user’s Facebook profile in a few taps, the company said. Once a user has locked their account, people they are not friends with will no longer be able to see photos and posts — both historic and new — and zoom into, share, and download profile pictures and cover photos.
“We have often heard from young girls that they are hesitant to share about themselves online and are intimidated by the idea of someone misusing their information. I am very happy to see that Facebook is making efforts to learn about their concerns and building products that can give them the experience they want. This new safety feature will give women, especially young girls a chance to express themselves freely,” said Ranjana Kumari, Director at New Delhi-based women advocacy group Centre for Social Research, in a statement.
A user can lock the account by tapping on More under their name, then tapping the Lock Profile button and the confirmation button that prompts afterward.
Prior to Thursday’s announcement, this feature was available to users in Bangladesh, a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch.
The new feature appears to be an extension of a similar effort Facebook made in 2017 in India to combat catfishing. That feature, called Profile Picture Guard, allowed users to protect their profile picture from being zoomed into and shared by their friends and those not in the friend list.
The storm is hitting a starkly vulnerable and densely populated region that is still under coronavirus lockdown.
Millions fled, and several deaths have been reported, but for the moment, at least, residents say it appears it could have been much worse.
The storm is weakening as it approaches landfall, but still carries potentially deadly force and flooding rains.
Hundreds of thousands have been evacuated as Cyclone Amphan approaches, one of the region’s most powerful storms in decades.
A mother balances coverage of tsunamis, plane crashes, bombings and other tragedies with life at home during a coronavirus lockdown.