Kamla Bhasin, a First-Wave South Asian Feminist, Dies at 75

An activist, poet and author, she spent most of her adult life fighting injustice and patriarchy and building bonds of solidarity with women across borders.

#bhasin-kamla-1946-2021, #deaths-obituaries, #food-and-agriculture-organization-of-the-united-nations, #india, #south-asia, #women-and-girls, #womens-rights

Why Biden Didn’t See the ISIS-K Threat Until Too Late

Twenty years later, the terrorism threat from Afghanistan hasn’t faded. And militant competition from ISIS-K has merely increased the stakes. 

#afghanistan, #afghanistan-war-2001, #al-qaeda, #drones-pilotless-planes, #evacuations-and-evacuees, #kabul-international-airport, #khorasan, #pakistan, #south-asia, #taliban, #terrorism, #united-states, #united-states-defense-and-military-forces, #war-and-armed-conflicts

Biden Didn’t See the ISIS-K Threat in Afghanistan Until Too Late

Twenty years later, the terrorism threat from Afghanistan hasn’t faded. And militant competition from ISIS-K has merely increased the stakes. 

#afghanistan, #afghanistan-war-2001, #al-qaeda, #drones-pilotless-planes, #evacuations-and-evacuees, #kabul-international-airport, #khorasan, #pakistan, #south-asia, #taliban, #terrorism, #united-states, #united-states-defense-and-military-forces, #war-and-armed-conflicts

This Week in Apps: In-app events hit the App Store, TikTok tries Stories, Apple reveals new child safety plan

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place, with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

Apple to scan for CSAM imagery

Apple announced a major initiative to scan devices for CSAM imagery. The company on Thursday announced a new set of features, arriving later this year, that will detect child sexual abuse material (CSAM) in its cloud and report it to law enforcement. Companies like Dropbox, Google and Microsoft already scan for CSAM in their cloud services, but Apple had allowed users to encrypt their data before it reached iCloud. Now, Apple’s new technology, NeuralHash, will run on users’ devices, tatformso detect when a users upload known CSAM imagery — without having to first decrypt the images. It even can detect the imagery if it’s been cropped or edited in an attempt to avoid detection.

Meanwhile, on iPhone and iPad, the company will roll out protections to Messages app users that will filter images and alert children and parents if sexually explicit photos are sent to or from a child’s account. Children will not be shown the images but will instead see a grayed-out image instead. If they try to view the image anyway through the link, they’ll be shown interruptive screens that explain why the material may be harmful and are warned that their parents will be notified.

Some privacy advocates pushed back at the idea of such a system, believing it could expand to end-to-end encrypted photos, lead to false positives, or set the stage for more on-device government surveillance in the future. But many cryptology experts believe the system Apple developed provides a good balance between privacy and utility, and have offered their endorsement of the technology. In addition, Apple said reports are manually reviewed before being sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

The changes may also benefit iOS developers who deal in user photos and uploads, as predators will no longer store CSAM imagery on iOS devices in the first place, given the new risk of detection.

In-App Events appear on the App Store

Image Credits: Apple

Though not yet publicly available to all users, those testing the new iOS 15 mobile operating system got their first glimpse of a new App Store discovery feature this week: “in-app events.” First announced at this year’s WWDC, the feature will allow developers and Apple editors alike to showcase directly on the App Store upcoming events taking place inside apps.

The events can appear on the App Store homepage, on the app’s product pages or can be discovered through personalized recommendations and search. In some cases, editors will curate events to feature on the App Store. But developers will also be provided tools to submit their own in-app events. TikTok’s “Summer Camp” for creators was one of the first in-app events to be featured, where it received a top spot on the iPadOS 15 App Store.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

Apple expands support for student IDs on iPhone and Apple Watch ahead of the fall semester. Tens of thousands more U.S. and Canadian colleges will now support mobile student IDs in the Apple Wallet app, including Auburn University, Northern Arizona University, University of Maine, New Mexico State University and others.

Apple was accused of promoting scam apps in the App Store’s featured section. The company’s failure to properly police its store is one thing, but to curate an editorial list that actually includes the scams is quite another. One of the games rounded up under “Slime Relaxations,” an already iffy category to say the least, was a subscription-based slime simulator that locked users into a $13 AUD per week subscription for its slime simulator. One of the apps on the curated list didn’t even function, implying that Apple’s editors hadn’t even tested the apps they recommend.

Tax changes hit the App Store. Apple announced tax and price changes for apps and IAPs in South Africa, the U.K. and all territories using the Euro currency, all of which will see decreases. Increases will occur in Georgia and Tajikistan, due to new tax changes. Proceeds on the App Store in Italy will be increased to reflect a change to the Digital Services Tax effective rate.

Game Center changes, too. Apple said that on August 4, a new certificate for server-based Game Center verification will be available via the publicKeyUrl.

Fintech

Robinhood stock jumped more than 24% to $46.80 on Tuesday after initially falling 8% on its first day of trading last week, after which it had continued to trade below its opening price of $38.

Square’s Cash app nearly doubled its gross profit to $546 million in Q2, but also reported a $45 million impairment loss on its bitcoin holdings.

Coinbase’s app now lets you buy your cryptocurrency using Apple Pay. The company previously made its Coinbase Card compatible with Apple Pay in June.

Social

An anonymous app called Sendit, which relies on Snap Kit to function, is climbing the charts of the U.S. App Store after Snap suspended similar apps, YOLO and LMK. Snap was sued by the parent of child who was bullied through those apps, which led to his suicide. Sendit also allows for anonymity, and reviews compare it to YOLO. But some reviews also complained about bullying. This isn’t the first time Snap has been involved in a lawsuit related to a young person’s death related to its app. The company was also sued for its irresponsible “speed filter” that critics said encouraged unsafe driving. Three young men died using the filter, which captured them doing 123 mph.

TikTok is testing Stories. As Twitter’s own Stories integrations, Fleets, shuts down, TikTok confirmed it’s testing its own Stories product. The TikTok Stories appear in a left-hand sidebar and allow users to post ephemeral images or video that disappear in 24 hours. Users can also comment on Stories, which are public to their mutual friends and the creator. Stories on TikTok may make more sense than they did on Twitter, as TikTok is already known as a creative platform and it gives the app a more familiar place to integrate its effects toolset and, eventually, advertisements.

Facebook has again re-arranged its privacy settings. The company continually moves around where its privacy features are located, ostensibly to make them easier to find. But users then have to re-learn where to go to find the tools they need, after they had finally memorized the location. This time, the settings have been grouped into six top-level categories, but “privacy” settings have been unbundled from one location to be scattered among the other categories.

A VICE report details ban-as-a-service operations that allow anyone to harass or censor online creators on Instagram. Assuming you can find it, one operation charged $60 per ban, the listing says.

TikTok merged personal accounts with creator accounts. The change means now all non-business accounts on TikTok will have access to the creator tools under Settings, including Analytics, Creator Portal, Promote and Q&A. TikTok shared the news directly with subscribers of its TikTok Creators newsletter in August, and all users will get a push notification alerting them to the change, the company told us.

Discord now lets users customize their profile on its apps. The company added new features to its iOS and Android apps that let you add a description, links and emojis and select a profile color. Paid subscribers can also choose an image or GIF as their banner.

Twitter Spaces added a co-hosting option that allows up to two co-hosts to be added to the live audio chat rooms. Now Spaces can have one main host, two co-hosts and up to 10 speakers. Co-hosts have all the moderation abilities as hosts, but can’t add or remove others as co-hosts.

Messaging

Tencent reopened new user sign-ups for its WeChat messaging app, after having suspended registrations last week for unspecified “technical upgrades.” The company, like many other Chinese tech giants, had to address new regulations from Beijing impacting the tech industry. New rules address how companies handle user data collection and storage, antitrust behavior and other checks on capitalist “excess.” The gaming industry is now worried it’s next to be impacted, with regulations that would restrict gaming for minors to fight addiction.

WhatsApp is adding a new feature that will allow users to send photos and videos that disappear after a single viewing. The Snapchat-inspired feature, however, doesn’t alert you if the other person takes a screenshot — as Snap’s app does. So it may not be ideal for sharing your most sensitive content.

Telegram’s update expands group video calls to support up to 1,000 viewers. It also announced video messages can be recorded in higher quality and can be expanded, regular videos can be watched at 0.5 or 2x speed, screen sharing with sound is available for all video calls, including 1-on-1 calls, and more.

Streaming & Entertainment

American Airlines added free access to TikTok aboard its Viasat-equipped aircraft. Passengers will be able to watch the app’s videos for up to 30 minutes for free and can even download the app if it’s not already installed. After the free time, they can opt to pay for Wi-Fi to keep watching. Considering how easy it is to fall into multi-hour TikTok viewing sessions without knowing it, the addition of the addictive app could make long plane rides feel shorter. Or at least less painful.

Chinese TikTok rival Kuaishou saw stocks fall by more than 15% in Hong Kong, the most since its February IPO. The company is another victim of an ongoing market selloff triggered by increasing investor uncertainty related to China’s recent crackdown on tech companies. Beijing’s campaign to rein in tech has also impacted Tencent, Alibaba, Jack Ma’s Ant Group, food delivery company Meituan and ride-hailing company Didi. Also related, Kuaishou shut down its controversial app Zynn, which had been paying users to watch its short-form videos, including those stolen from other apps.

Twitch overtook YouTube in consumer spending per user in April 2021, and now sees $6.20 per download as of June compared with YouTube’s $5.60, Sensor Tower found.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Spotify confirmed tests of a new ad-supported tier called Spotify Plus, which is only $0.99 per month and offers unlimited skips (like free users get on the desktop) and the ability to play the songs you want, instead of only being forced to use shuffle mode.

The company also noted in a forum posting that it’s no longer working on AirPlay2 support, due to “audio driver compatibility” issues.

Mark Cuban-backed audio app Fireside asked its users to invest in the company via an email sent to creators which didn’t share deal terms. The app has yet to launch.

YouTube kicks off its $100 million Shorts Fund aimed at taking on TikTok by providing creators with cash incentives for top videos. Creators will get bonuses of $100 to $10,000 based on their videos’ performance.

Dating

Match Group announced during its Q2 earnings it plans to add to several of the company’s brands over the next 12 to 24 months audio and video chat, including group live video, and other livestreaming technologies. The developments will be powered by innovations from Hyperconnect, the social networking company that this year became Match’s biggest acquisition to date when it bought the Korean app maker for a sizable $1.73 billion. Since then, Match was spotted testing group live video on Tinder, but says that particular product is not launching in the near-term. At least two brands will see Hyperconnect-powered integrations in 2021.

Photos

The Photo & Video category on U.S. app stores saw strong growth in the first half of the year, a Sensor Tower report found. Consumer spend among the top 100 apps grew 34% YoY to $457 million in Q2 2021, with the majority of the revenue (83%) taking place on iOS.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Gaming

Epic Games revealed the host of its in-app Rift Tour event is Ariana Grande, in the event that runs August 6-8.

Pokémon GO influencers threatened to boycott the game after Niantic removed the COVID safety measures that had allowed people to more easily play while social distancing. Niantic’s move seemed ill-timed, given the Delta variant is causing a new wave of COVID cases globally.

Health & Fitness

Apple kicked out an app called Unjected from the App Store. The new social app billed itself as a community for the unvaccinated, allowing like-minded users to connect for dating and friendships. Apple said the app violated its policies for COVID-19 content.

Google Pay expanded support for vaccine cards. In Australia, Google’s payments app now allows users to add their COVID-19 digital certification to their device for easy access. The option is available through Google’s newly updated Passes API which lets government agencies distribute digital versions of vaccine cards.

COVID Tech Connect, a U.S. nonprofit initially dedicated to collecting devices like phones and tablets for COVID ICU patients, has now launched its own app. The app, TeleHome, is a device-agnostic, HIPAA-compliant way for patients to place a video call for free at a time when the Delta variant is again filling ICU wards, this time with the unvaccinated — a condition that sometimes overlaps with being low-income. Some among the working poor have been hesitant to get the shot because they can’t miss a day of work, and are worried about side effects. Which is why the Biden administration offered a tax credit to SMBs who offered paid time off to staff to get vaccinated and recover.

Popular journaling app Day One, which was recently acquired by WordPress.com owner Automattic, rolled out a new “Concealed Journals” feature that lets users hide content from others’ viewing. By tapping the eye icon, the content can be easily concealed on a journal by journal basis, which can be useful for those who write to their journal in public, like coffee shops or public transportation.

Edtech

Recently IPO’d language learning app Duolingo is developing a math app for kids. The company says it’s still “very early” in the development process, but will announce more details at its annual conference, Duocon, later this month.

Educational publisher Pearson launched an app that offers U.S. students access to its 1,500 titles for a monthly subscription of $14.99. the Pearson+ mobile app (ack, another +), also offers the option of paying $9.99 per month for access to a single textbook for a minimum of four months.

News & Reading

Quora jumps into the subscription economy. Still not profitable from ads alone, Quora announced two new products that allow its expert creators to monetize their content on its service. With Quora+ ($5/mo or $50/yr), subscribers can pay for any content that a creator paywalls. Creators can choose to enable a adaptive paywall that will use an algorithm to determine when to show the paywall. Another product, Spaces, lets creators write paywalled publications on Quora, similar to Substack. But only a 5% cut goes to Quora, instead of 10% on Substack.

Utilities

Google Maps on iOS added a new live location-sharing feature for iMessage users, allowing them to more easily show your ETA with friends and even how much battery life you have left. The feature competes with iMessage’s built-in location-sharing feature, and offers location sharing of 1 hour up to 3 days. The app also gained a dark mode.

Security & Privacy

Controversial crime app Citizen launched a $20 per month “Protect” service that includes live agent support (who can refer calls to 911 if need be). The agents can gather your precise location, alert your designated emergency contacts, help you navigate to a safe location and monitor the situation until you feel safe. The system of live agent support is similar to in-car or in-home security and safety systems, like those from ADT or OnStar, but works with users out in the real world. The controversial part, however, is the company behind the product: Citizen has been making headlines for launching private security fleets outside law enforcement, and recently offered a reward in a manhunt for an innocent person based on unsubstantiated tips.

Funding and M&A

🤝 Square announced its acquisition of the “buy now, pay later” giant AfterPay in a $29 billion deal that values the Australian firm at more than 30% higher than the stock’s last closing price of AUS$96.66. AfterPay has served over 16 million customers and nearly 100,000 merchants globally, to date, and comes at a time when the BNPL space is heating up. Apple has also gotten into the market recently with an Affirm partnership in Canada.

🤝 Gaming giant Zynga acquired Chinese game developer StarLark, the team behind the mobile golf game Golf Rival, from Betta Games for $525 million in both cash and stock. Golf Rival is the second-largest mobile golf game behind Playdemic’s Golf Clash, and EA is in the process of buying that studio for $1.4 billion.

💰  U.K.-based Humanity raised an additional $2.5 million for its app that claims to help slow down aging, bringing the total raise to date to $5 million. Backers include Calm’s co-founders, MyFitness Pal’s co-founder and others in the health space. The app works by benchmarking health advice against real-world data, to help users put better health practices into action.

💰 YELA, a Cameo-like app for the Middle East and South Asia, raised $2 million led by U.S. investors that include Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen and Sean Rad, general partner of RAD Fund. The app is focusing on signing celebrities in the regions it serves, where smartphone penetration is high and over 6% of the population is under 35.

💰 London-based health and wellness app maker Palta raised a $100 million Series B led by VNV Global. The company’s products include Flo.Health, Simple Fasting, Zing Fitness Coach and others, which reach a combined 2.4 million active, paid subscribers. The funds will be used to create more mobile subscription products.

🤝 Emoji database and Wikipedia-like site Emojipedia was acquired by Zedge, the makers of a phone personalization app offering wallpapers, ringtones and more to 35 million MAUs. Deal terms weren’t disclosed. Emojipedia says the deal provides it with more stability and the opportunity for future growth. For Zedge, the deal provides🤨….um, a popular web resource it thinks it can better monetize, we suspect.

💰 Mental health app Revery raised $2 million led by Sequoia Capital India’s Surge program for its app that combines cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia with mobile gaming concepts. The company will focus on other mental health issues in the future.

💰 London-based Nigerian-operating fintech startup Kuda raised a $55 million Series B, valuing its mobile-first challenger bank at $500 million. The inside round was co-led by Valar Ventures and Target Global.

💰 Vietnamese payments provider VNLife raised $250 million in a round led by U.S.-based General Atlantic and Dragoneer Investment Group. PayPal Ventures and others also participated. The round values the business at over $1 billion.

Downloads

Mastodon for iPhone

Fans of decentralized social media efforts now have a new app. The nonprofit behind the open source decentralized social network Mastodon released an official iPhone app, aimed at making the network more accessible to newcomers. The app allows you to find and follow people and topics; post text, images, GIFs, polls, and videos; and get notified of new replies and reblogs, much like Twitter.

Xingtu

@_666eveITS SO COOL FRFR do u guys want a tutorial? #fypシ #醒图 #醒图app♬ original sound – Ian Asher

TikTok users are teaching each other how to switch over to the Chinese App Store in order to get ahold of the Xingtu app for iOS. (An Android version is also available.) The app offers advanced editing tools that let users edit their face and body, like FaceTune, apply makeup, add filters and more. While image-editing apps can be controversial for how they can impact body acceptance, Xingtu offers a variety of artistic filters which is what’s primarily driving the demand. It’s interesting to see the lengths people will go to just to get a few new filters for their photos — perhaps making a case for Instagram to finally update its Post filters instead of pretending no one cares about their static photos anymore.

Tweets

Facebook still dominating top charts, but not the No. 1 spot:  

Not cool, Apple: 

This user acquisition strategy: 

Maybe Stories don’t work everywhere: 

#adt, #afterpay, #alibaba, #android, #ant-group, #api, #app-maker, #app-store, #apple, #apps, #australia, #automattic, #beijing, #biden-administration, #canada, #china, #cloud-services, #coinbase, #coinbase-card, #computing, #day-one, #dragoneer-investment-group, #driver, #dropbox, #duolingo, #emojipedia, #eta, #facebook, #fintech-startup, #food-delivery, #game-center, #game-developer, #general-atlantic, #general-partner, #georgia, #gif, #google, #hyperconnect, #instagram, #ios, #ios-devices, #ipad, #iphone, #italy, #itunes, #jam-fund, #justin-mateen, #kuaishou, #kuda, #law-enforcement, #london, #ma, #maine, #meituan, #microsoft, #middle-east, #mobile, #mobile-app, #mobile-applications, #mobile-devices, #online-creators, #onstar, #operating-system, #palta, #playdemic, #quora, #sean-rad, #sensor-tower, #sequoia-capital, #smartphone, #snap, #snapchat, #social-network, #social-networking, #software, #south-africa, #south-asia, #spotify, #stories, #target-global, #tc, #this-week-in-apps, #tiktok, #twitch, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #valar-ventures, #viasat, #vnv-global, #wi-fi, #wordpress-com, #zedge, #zynga

YELA secures $2M to reproduce Cameo’s celebrity success with an app for the Middle East

The Cameo app, where celebrities send video messages to paying fans, has taken off globally. But now the concept is set to come to the Middle East and South Asia.

Tech startup YELA has secured $2 million in investment to support its launch, and will — similar to Cameo — offer users the opportunity to get close to their idols via voice, video and direct text messages.

The investment is led by U.S investors Justin Mateen (co-founder of Tinder) and general partner of JAM Fund, joined by Sean Rad (co-founder Tinder) and general partner of RAD Fund. Participation from the U.S. also includes Graph Ventures, championed by Razmig Hovaghimian (board member at Rakuten). In addition, U.K investment comes from Samos Fund, Ascension Ventures, and from MENA-based Hambro Perks Oryx Fund, who joined the round.

The twist is that YELA plans to sign some big celebrities known in the region, but less so in the Western world. That doesn’t mean the market is small. There are over 365 million Arabic speakers online and over 65% of the population is under 35. Meanwhile, smartphone penetration is very high.

Alex Eid, CEO and co-founder of YELA said: “There is a huge appetite in the MENA market for a premium offering in the creator space.”

He said YELA has onboarded high-profile celebrities, confirming A-list signees including Amr Diab, the multiaward-winning Egyptian singer, and Haifa Wehbe, three-time Big Apple Music Award winner, amongst others.

YELA will launch in August 2021 with prices starting from $100.

#ascension-ventures, #board-member, #companies, #europe, #hambro-perks, #iac, #jam-fund, #justin-mateen, #mena, #middle-east, #rakuten, #sean-rad, #smartphone, #software, #south-asia, #tc, #tinder, #united-kingdom, #united-states

Kenya’s Wapi Pay raises $2.2M pre-seed for cross-border payments between Africa and Asia

According to the World Bank, it is more expensive to send money to sub-Saharan African than to any region in the world. It is also the most expensive region to send money from. In Q1 2020, people spent an average of 8.9% to send money to the region, much higher than the global average of 6.8%.

There’s much talk around sending money from Africa to the West, which has led to many startups using traditional (fiat) and non-traditional (crypto) means to facilitate cross-border payments between the two corridors. However, there’s little noise about the corridors between Africa and other regions like Latin America or Asia.

South Asia, for instance, has the lowest average remittance costs across all regions at 4.95% (these percentages are reported on a standard $200 transfer); therefore, it makes sense to tap into the opportunities the market presents. Wapi Pay, a Kenyan startup with offices in China and Singapore, is carrying out this play and has carved a market for itself by facilitating payments between both extreme remittance worlds of Africa and Asia.

Founded in 2019 by brothers Paul Ndichu and Eddie Ndichu, Wapi Pay provides a payments gateway for African businesses to receive and send money from Asia via mobile money platforms and bank accounts.

Most of the focus on remittance has been the flow of money into Africa for sustenance. Therefore, digitizing has been mostly around delivery rather than building new infrastructure and payment processing models for African individuals and businesses to make cross-border payments.

Financial institutions are left with traditional systems and correspondence models to offer service to their customers. These transactions are inherently complex in nature, given their compliance requirements. The lack of new infrastructure or processes make them further opaque, longer to process and far too expensive. Crypto remittance startups claim to solve this problem, but no one has successfully scaled to effective usage.

“We started Wapi Pay having seen how fragmented the payment infrastructure is and how horrifying the experience and expense of making or receiving a payment to and from Asia,” Peter Ndichu said to TechCrunch.

“We spent some time in Asia given the growing trade relationship between the two corridors [Africa and Asia] and saw the growing need to make this more efficient, faster and cheaper, evolving from remittances to global payments. These transactions are already complex in nature; how do we make them as simple and easy as mobile money?” he added.

In Q1 2021, Africa-China trade jumped 27% to $52.1 billion compared with 2020. Despite the economic recovery from the pandemic, African merchants still find it expensive to send and receive money. In some cases, these costs can be as high as 20%, especially in Southern African regions. The wait time can also be ridiculous too, with some spending up to a week before payment is processed. Wapi Pay says it can process payments within a day and charges as low as 3%.

“Wapi Pay bypasses traditional payment networks, optimizing efficiency and cost for our customers. Users choose the delivery channels they want, such as bank to bank, wallet to wallet, bank to wallet and wallet to bank options to transfer funds as well as make merchant payments, with settlement done within 24 hours,” said CEO Eddie in a statement.

Presently, Wapi Pay works with local banks and platforms in China, Indonesia, India, Japan, Malaysia, Phillippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. The company claims to be growing at 396% year-on-year since 2019 and has hopes to continue in that fashion. By the end of next year, Wapi Pay wants to process $500 million in remittances and increase the number of African merchants and Asian suppliers to half a million and 100,000, respectively.

The $2.2 million pre-seed investment announced today will be vital to meeting those targets to scale up global payments and remittances between Africa and Asia.

The round is one of the largest of its kind in East Africa and the continent. The venture firms that took part include China-based fund MSA Capital, known to have invested in unicorns Meituan, Nubank and Klarna; Pan-African and Africa-focused firms EchoVC, Kepple Africa, Future Hub; and Pan-Asian firms Transsion Holdings and Gobi Ventures.

Wapi Pay will use the investments to engage regulators for licensing across Africa and for scale, product and geographical expansion.

“These funds will help Wapi Pay diversify our products range and drive growth so that we can evolve remittances into real-time global cross-border payments, starting with Africa and Asia. All while minimising the cost of transactions, it needs to be as easy as sending M-PESA,” Eddie added.  

“Africa to Asia is a large trading corridor overlooked and underserved by tech today. We believe Wapi Pay is the best team to build the necessary infrastructure to support its growing trade volumes. We are excited to support them with our extensive China fintech network and playbook,” Tim Chen, vice president at MSA Capital, said in a statement

#africa, #asia, #east-africa, #payments, #payments-gateway, #remittance, #south-asia, #tc, #wapi-pay

A Million Years of Data Confirms: Monsoons Are Likely to Get Worse

The annual summer monsoon in South Asia begins this month. A new study points to more destructive storms.

#bay-of-bengal, #floods, #global-warming, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #india, #indian-ocean, #monsoons, #rain, #research, #science-advances-journal, #south-asia

Facebook co-founder Saverin’s B Capital doubles down on SaaS in China

B Capital Group, the six-year-old venture capital fund formed by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin and Bain Capital veteran Raj Ganguly, is doubling down on China as it looks to allocate $500 million to $1 billion of its fund into Chinese tech companies over the next few years.

With $1.9 billion assets under management, B Capital is going after enterprise software providers in China, an area that has seen “explosive growth” but is still only a “fraction the size of the U.S. SaaS market,” Ganguly said in an interview with TechCrunch.

The idea that Chinese companies are reluctant to shell out for software is “very backward-looking thinking”, he added.

One force fueling the boom of B2B companies in China is surging labor costs. As such, B Capital is hunting down software that could make labor and business operations more productive, and subsequently, give companies a competitive edge. Covid-19 accelerated the shift, as well-digitized companies had proven much more resilient to disruptions caused by the pandemic.

B Capital is able to discern what enterprises need thanks to its close partnership with Boston Consulting Group, which has a raft of customers ranging from healthcare, finance to transportation looking to digitize.

These large corporations “understand that their internal technology can’t be the only solution and they have to look to the outside and be willing to partner with early-stage, high-growth, or late-stage tech companies,” Ganguly suggested. They are also more willing to pay for software compared to scrappy, cash-strapped startups.

B Capital began deploying capital in China early this year and has already closed three deals. It’s stage-agnostic — though growth-stage startups are the focus — and plans to back 15-20 projects in China over the next few years. About 15 of its investment and operating employees are based out of Hong Kong and Beijing. It has around 110 staff worldwide.

Ganguly declined to disclose the names of its Chinese investees at this stage but said they include a biotech company, an automotive parts business, and an e-commerce enabler. Leveraging BCG’s expertise, the biotech company is learning how it can bring actual drugs to market faster. And the automotive business is similarly working with BCG to figure out its pricing and go-to-market strategy.

Going global

Overall, B Capital looks for opportunities in healthcare, fintech, industrial digitalization, and other horizontal enterprise services. Chinese startups that interest B Capital most are also those with the intention and ability to cross borders.

“Biotech is the area that we’ve been the most impressed by what’s happening in China and how that technology can be exported to other countries,” Ganguly said. B Capital has backed one biotech startup with offices in both Shanghai and Cambridge, Massachusettes, and is on track to close a deal with another that also straddles China and the U.S.

The other target is e-commerce, which Ganguly described as “cross-border by its nature” because a product is often sourced in one country, made in another, and then sold in a third market.

The investor is certainly right about the potential of cross-border e-commerce in China, where consumers have a big appetite for imported goods and manufacturers look for new ways to sell globally.

China is also in a good position to export its enterprise software, similar to how Indian counterparts have succeeded overseas, said Ganguly. The difference is that few Indian corporations are willing to pay big bucks for software, which forces B2B entrepreneurs to seek market abroad, whereas China’s domestic companies have an increasing demand for SaaS.

Despite ongoing geopolitical complications, Ganguly is optimistic that the world “is still moving towards globalization” over the long term.

“Certain innovation cycles have started in Silicon Valley and spread to places like China and Southeast Asia. But frankly, other innovation cycles have started in China and gone to South and Southeast Asia and the U.S. We think that China’s enterprise [software], artificial intelligence and biotech are some of the best technology that we’ve seen.”

But these globalizing companies must be able to adapt, hire talent outside their core market, get regulatory approvals, and build the right distribution networks, the investor suggested.

“I think that there are aspects of globalization that have become very politicized, and I think that’s unfortunate but understandable. Our belief is that businesses that we invest in have the ability to cross borders. Sometimes that means going from China to South and Southeast Asia, and sometimes that means extending to the U.S. Sometimes it just means the ability to import or export their products or software, and even staying in China where they can sell their technologies overseas.”

#asia, #b-capital-group, #bain-capital, #beijing, #china, #cross-border-e-commerce, #e-commerce, #e-commerce-enabler, #enterprise-software, #globalization, #private-equity, #raj-ganguly, #shanghai, #south-asia, #southeast-asia, #tc, #venture-capital

As India’s Covid Crisis Rages, Nearby Countries Brace for the Worst

Vaccine shortages, porous borders and fleeing migrant workers have nearby countries fearing that they will share India’s fate.

#bangladesh, #bhutan, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #deaths-fatalities, #disease-rates, #foreign-workers, #immigration-and-emigration, #india, #labor-and-jobs, #nepal, #oli-k-p-sharma, #pakistan, #poverty, #south-asia, #sri-lanka, #travel-warnings, #vaccination-and-immunization

Lockdowns Cut South Asia Smog. They Could Fill Reservoirs, Too.

Coronavirus restrictions reduced pollution that makes snow melt faster, which could help water supplies for 300 million last longer this year.

#air-pollution, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #global-warming, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #proceedings-of-the-national-academy-of-sciences, #reservoirs, #snow-and-snowstorms, #south-asia

How the Tiny Kingdom of Bhutan Out-Vaccinated Most of the World

The Himalayan nation has given more than 60 percent of its people a shot. Some villages were reached by helicopter, and health workers hiked through ice and snow.

#bhutan, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #india, #serum-institute-of-india, #south-asia, #vaccination-and-immunization

Warming and Warnings From the High Himalayas

The region is warming much faster than much of the planet, and the consequences are already showing.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #drought, #floods, #global-warming, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #himalayas, #monsoons, #research, #south-asia

Bangladesh-based Maya, a startup focused on accessible healthcare, raises $2.2 million seed round

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.

Bangladesh-based healthcare app Maya's homescreen

Maya’s homescreen

“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.”

#apps, #asia, #bangladesh, #fundings-exits, #health, #healthcare, #maya, #south-asia, #startups, #tc, #telehealth, #womens-health

As Singapore Ventures Back Out, Migrant Workers Are Kept In

The low-wage workers, almost half of whom have contracted the coronavirus, continue to be mostly confined to dormitories even as the city-state eases restrictions.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-reopenings, #disease-rates, #dormitories, #foreign-workers, #migrant-labor-non-agriculture, #quarantines, #singapore, #south-asia

WarnerMedia to discontinue HBO and WB TV channels in India, and select other South Asia markets

WarnerMedia will discontinue HBO and WB TV channels in India, Pakistan, Maldives, and Bangladesh later this year as the entertainment conglomerate struggles to find a sustainable business model in South Asian despite operating in the region for over a decade.

The company said it will end HBO and WB TV channels in the aforementioned markets, where a cable subscription costs about $4 to $5 a month, on December 15. In India, for instance, it costs less than 25 cents to subscribe to both HBO (in HD) and WB atop a monthly cable plan, which costs about $2.

While HBO is a household name in the U.S. and several other developed markets, in India and other South Asian nations, its audience size remains tiny. Times Internet’s Movies Now, Star Movies, and Sony Pix had a considerably larger viewership than HBO in India last month, according to Broadcast Audience Research Council, India’s ratings agency.

Warner Media cited a dramatic market shift in the pay-TV industry for its decision. It said it will continue to offer Cartoon Network and Pogo in India, and distribute CNN International in the country.

“After 20 years of successes for the HBO linear movie channel in South Asia and more than a decade with the WB linear movie channel, this was a difficult decision to make. The pay-TV industry landscape and the market dynamics have shifted dramatically, and the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for further change,” said Siddharth Jain, SVP and Managing Director of WarnerMedia’s entertainment network in South Asia, in a statement.

HBO also maintains a content syndication partnership with Disney’s Hotstar in India. So the streamer will continue to offer HBO’s shows such as “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” — hopefully without any censorship — in the country.

“WarnerMedia has a strong interest in India and are committed to assessing optimal opportunities to serve valued customers here,” said Jain.

#asia, #entertainment, #hbo, #india, #south-asia, #tv, #warnermedia

Google’s AI-powered flood alerts now cover all of India and parts of Bangladesh

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.

Alerts for flood forecasting

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.

#ai, #apps, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #bangladesh, #google, #india, #south-asia

‘Feeling Seen for the First Time,’ Indian-Americans Cheer Kamala Harris’s Selection

Asian-American political leaders and community advocates described the choice of Ms. Harris as the Democratic vice-presidential nominee as a powerful statement on American possibility.

#black-people, #california, #harris-kamala-d, #indian-americans, #presidential-election-of-2020, #south-asia, #united-states, #united-states-politics-and-government, #vice-presidents-and-vice-presidency-us

In Poor Countries, Many Covid-19 Patients Are Desperate for Oxygen

Aid agencies are scrambling to get oxygen equipment to low-income countries where the coronavirus is rapidly spreading.

#africa, #congo-democratic-republic-of-congo-kinshasa, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #gates-bill-and-melinda-foundation, #government-contracts-and-procurement, #hospitals, #latin-america, #lungs, #nigeria, #oxygen, #philanthropy, #poverty, #public-private-sector-cooperation, #rural-areas, #south-asia, #third-world-and-developing-countries, #unaids, #united-nations, #united-nations-childrens-fund, #ventilators-medical, #world-health-organization

Coronavirus Rips Into Regions Previously Spared

As the West settles into a grinding battle with the disease, the virus surges across the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and South Asia.

#africa, #bangladesh, #bolsonaro-jair-1955, #brazil, #cairo-egypt, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-reopenings, #deaths-fatalities, #egypt, #hospitals, #latin-america, #middle-east, #putin-vladimir-v, #quarantines, #ramaphosa-cyril, #russia, #sisi-abdel-fattah-el, #south-africa, #south-america, #south-asia

The Cloud Forming Over America’s Spies

A retired C.I.A. officer sees danger ahead for the independence and political impartiality of the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies if Trump’s choice for director of national intelligence is confirmed.

#africa, #atkinson-michael-k-1964, #central-intelligence-agency, #china, #classified-information-and-state-secrets, #coats-dan, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #espionage-and-intelligence-services, #grenell-richard, #haspel-gina, #house-of-representatives, #inspectors-general, #instant-messaging, #iran, #justice-department, #london-england, #middle-east, #national-commission-on-terrorist-attacks-upon-the-united-states, #news-and-news-media, #north-korea, #office-of-the-director-of-national-intelligence, #presidential-election-of-2020, #putin-vladimir-v, #ratcliffe-john-lee-1965, #senate, #south-asia, #trump-donald-j, #united-states, #united-states-politics-and-government, #washington-post

Millions Had Risen Out of Poverty. Coronavirus Is Pulling Them Back.

Experts say that for the first time since 1998, global poverty will increase. At least a half a billion people could slip into destitution by the end of the year.

#africa, #banerjee-abhijit, #bangladesh, #coronavirus-aid-relief-and-economic-security-act-2020, #economic-conditions-and-trends, #food, #food-aid, #harvard-university, #income-inequality, #india, #international-monetary-fund, #labor-and-jobs, #layoffs-and-job-reductions, #massachusetts-institute-of-technology, #poverty, #recession-and-depression, #remittances, #south-asia, #third-world-and-developing-countries, #unemployment, #united-nations, #world-bank