Archives

india

India asks WhatsApp to withdraw new privacy policy, expresses ‘grave concerns’

India has asked WhatsApp to withdraw the planned change to its privacy policy, posing a new headache to Facebook-owned service that identifies the South Asian nation as its biggest market by users.

In an email to WhatsApp head Will Cathcart, the nation’s IT ministry said WhatsApp’s planned update to its data-sharing policy raised “grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens… Therefore, you are called upon to withdraw the proposed changes.”

The ministry also sought clarification from WhatsApp on its data-sharing agreement with Facebook and other commercial firms and has asked why users in the EU are exempt from the new privacy policy but users in India have no choice but to comply.

“Such a differential treatment is prejudicial to the interests of Indian users and is viewed with serious concern by the government,” the ministry wrote, adding that “the government of India owes a sovereign responsibility to its citizens to ensure that their interests are not compromised and therefore it calls upon WhatsApp to respond to concerns raised in this letter.”

Through an in-app alert earlier this month, WhatsApp had asked users to agree to new terms of conditions that grants the app the consent to share with Facebook some personal data about them, such as their phone number and location. Users were initially provided until February 8 to comply with the new policy if they wished to continue using the service. (WhatsApp has since offered clarification and also deferred the enforcement date of the planned policy.)

“This ‘all-or-nothing’ approach takes away any meaninful choice from Indian users. This approach leverages the social significance of WhatsApp to force users into a bargain, which may infringe on their interests in relation to informational privacy and information security,” the ministry said in the email, a copy of which was reviewed by TechCrunch.

New Delhi also noted that it is reviewing the Personal Data Protection Bill, which is meant to oversee how data of users are shared with third-party firms. “Since the Parliament is seized of the issue, making such a momentous change for Indian users at this time puts the cart before the horse. Since the Personal Data Protection Bill strongly follows the principle of ‘purpose limitation,’ these changes may lead to significant implementational challenges for WhatsApp should the Bill become an Act,” the letter said.

More to follow…

Prosus Ventures leads $30 million investment in Indian agritech startup DeHaat

Once overlooked, agritech startups are beginning to have a moment in India.

On Tuesday, DeHaat, an online platform that offers full-stack agricultural services to farmers, said it has raised $30 million in a new financing round as the Indian firm looks to maintain its accelerated growth despite the pandemic.

Prosus Ventures, formerly known as Naspers Ventures, led Patna and Gurgaon-based startup’s Series C financing round. RTP Global and existing investors Sequoia Capital India, FMO, Omnivore and AgFunder also participated in it, bringing the startup’s to-date raise to over $46 million. (Dexter Capital was the advisor for this funding round.)

One of the biggest challenges farmers in India face is securing agri-input items such as seeds and fertilizers and then finding buyers after producing the yields.

DeHaat, which is Hindi for village, is solving this by bringing brands, institutional financers and buyers to one platform, which is accessible through a helpline and an app in local languages.

Only about a third of the yields Indian farmers produce reaches the big markets, according to industry estimates. It’s traditionally proven immensely difficult for farmers to find buyers for their produce.

Once the season is over, DeHaat helps farmers sell their yields to bulk buyers such as business-to-business marketplace Udaan, Reliance Fresh, and food delivery firm Zomato.

The 10-year-old startup has also developed a database of crop tests and uses artificial intelligence to provide farmers with free-of-cost personalized advisory on what they should sow in a season. DeHaat also helps farmers secure working capital through partnership with hundreds of institutional firms.

We wrote about DeHaat last year, when it had raised a $12 million financing round. The past nine months has been the story of its accelerated growth despite the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted lockdowns across the nation for several months.

The startup, which today has presence in eastern part of India — states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal — serves close to 400,000 farmers, up from about 210,000 in April last year, Shashank Kumar, co-founder and chief executive of the startup, told TechCrunch in an interview.

How the startup is tackling these challenges is equally impressive. It works with nearly 1,400 micro-entrepreneurs, up from about 400 last year, in rural areas who distribute over 4,000 types of agri-input goods to farmers from their regional hubs and then bring back the output to the same hub. “They are the ones responsible for last-mile delivery and aggregation,” he said.

DeHaat has grown on every front, including the revenue it clocks, which is up 3X to 3.5X since last year, he said.

“At the end of March, our daily volume out was around 200 metric tonne. Now it’s over 600 metric tonne. Everyday we aggregate this much from farmers and supply to FMCG players and modern retails. Similarly on the agri-input side — seed, fertilizers, and pesticide — we are processing close to 10,000 orders everyday, compared to about 2,600 in March of last year,” he said.

“Prosus Ventures invests in industries around the world where innovation can significantly address big societal needs,” said Ashutosh Sharma, Head of India Investments at Prosus Ventures, in a statement.

“DeHaat is catering to a massive market in India with the agriculture sector worth more than $350 billion to the country’s economy and consisting of an estimated 140 million+ farmers. Through its end-to-end agricultural services offerings, DeHaat will have a major societal impact in India, improving the earning potential for Indian farmers and overall yield for the sector while also enabling microentrepreneurs all over the country, including in rural areas where there is often less income opportunity,” he added.

The startup plans to deploy the fresh capital to expand to more states in India including Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra and eventually serve 10 million farmers.

And another area where it intends to focus is hiring top tech talent. The startup has doubled its workforce since the past year, with many high-profile hires from major firms. The startup, which recently made its second acquisition, is also open to exploring more M&A opportunities, said DeHaat’s Kumar.

Once ignored, scores of agritech startups have cropped up in India in recent years — and many old startups are beginning to receive large-sized checks from investors.

Further reading: Omnivore and Accel recently co-authored a report on India’s agritech landscape.

Twitter is bringing Moments to Indian social app Dailyhunt

Five years after its launch, Twitter Moments is growing beyond the American social networking platform.

On Monday, Twitter said it had partnered with Dailyhunt to bring Moments to the Indian social app. Dailyhunt app now has a dedicated tab called ‘Twitter Moments India’ to showcase curated tweets pertaining to news and other events in the world’s second largest internet market.

The partnership will allow Twitter to extend its reach in India, where according to mobile insight firm App Annie (data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch), it had fewer than 75 million monthly active users last month. Dailyhunt, which last month raised $100 million in a round from Google, Microsoft and AlphaWave, in comparison, claims to reach over 285 million users each day.

Unlike Twitter, Dailyhunt is also popular in smaller Indian cities and towns. The Indian social app, which serves users in 14 local languages, termed its partnership with Twitter as its “biggest collaboration” to date. The companies did not disclose financial terms of the deal.

“At Twitter, we are committed to doing what we can to ensure people can keep up with what the world is talking about at any given time. Moments — a curated set of Tweets about a particular topic — are a powerful way to do so. With this partnership with Dailyhunt, a platform that caters to diverse languages and readers from all parts of India, we are thrilled to extend Twitter Moments to the Dailyhunt app,” said Manish Maheshwari, Managing Director of Twitter India, in a statement. (Twitter is also an investor in Indian social app ShareChat, which in some ways, competes with Dailyhunt.)

Umang Bedi, co-founder of Dailyhunt and former head of Facebook India, said, “the past year has shown us the power of public opinion and awareness and it is incumbent upon us to mobilize this discourse by making information more accessible, more reliable, and more engaging. When a trusted partner with our shared vision of enabling consumers to create and share information without barriers validates our platform with their presence, we know we are on the right path.”