Good morning. David Meyer here, filling in for Alan from Berlin.
We have a couple of must-read Fortune articles for you this morning from Vivienne Walt, who travelled around India to learn more about what Google is doing there—and more generally, how the Indian populace is becoming digitally savvy.
The Google piece is truly fascinating, showing how much effort Google is investing in a country that won’t give it many big returns for a long while yet.
- As India’s government made a big push for the transition from cash to digital payments, Google set up its first digital payments app in the country. That app, now called Google Pay, is now active in 29 countries.
- Google Maps these days references landmarks when giving directions. Again, that feature was born in India, where “thousands of Indian roads have no official street names, and if they do have names, locals do not know them.”
- The company is working with Tata’s philanthropic arm to train women to train other women to get online. Most Internet users in India are, for now, men.
There is of course another side to this, as Walt writes in reference to a rail-station Wi-Fi hotspot scheme: “When users log into a Google Station hotspot, a portal sucks up their data and allows Google to post ads on a dedicated web page.” That brings back memories of Facebook’s Free Basics debacle in India, in which efforts to connect more people ended up being characterized as a sort of data-extracting “Internet colonialism.”
Walt’s companion piece, an interview with Indian tech policy czar Amitabh Kant, also touches on that issue.
Here’s what Kant said about India’s digital government initiatives, such as the Aadhaar biometric database: “Unlike in the U.S., where all the data is owned by Google and Facebook, and unlike China, where it is owned by Alibaba and Tencent and Baidu, in India it’s owned by public entities.” (It should be noted that the security of Aadhaar is highly questionable.) He also said “the data of Indians must be kept within India.”
Nonetheless, Kant was full of praise for Google, which he saw as being ahead of Amazon in reaching the wider Indian populace. In a tech world that used to recite the “move fast and break things” mantra, it seems there’s a lot to be gained by taking the long view.
March 1 is supposed to be the end of the new-tariff truce between the U.S. and China, but President Trump now says it is “not a magical date,” suggesting it isn’t much of a deadline after all—even though U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has characterized it as a “hard deadline.” Confused? Trump: “A lot of things can happen.” Wall Street Journal
The U.K.’s antitrust authority may have sunk the proposed merger of supermarket giants Sainsbury’s and Asda, the latter being Walmart’s big British subsidiary. The CMA said the combined group would control too much of the U.K. markets for groceries, online grocery shopping and gas stations, and it was “likely to be difficult for the companies to address the concerns it has identified.” Sainsbury’s shares fell by as much as 16% in response. Guardian
It’s not just Denmark’s Danske Bank that’s in trouble for allegedly aiding money laundering—now Sweden’s Swedbank is in the frame too. Local broadcaster SVT made allegations about $4.3 billion in dodgy transfers passing between Swedbank and Danske, and Swedbank’s shares fell by as much as 7.3% in response. Bloomberg
Fortune reports that Google will next month launch a game-streaming service to rival those from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. As Chris Morris writes: “Google has had a presence in the mobile gaming world, but this project will put it in competition with several key industry players, both in the console space as well as PC gaming stalwarts, such as Steam and the fast-growing Epic Games store.” Fortune
Around the Water Cooler
Ford is shuttering a factory in Brazil that it’s operated for more than half a century. The closure of the São Bernardo do Campo plant, which involves the loss of 2,800 jobs, is part of a global restructuring effort that’s also leading to thousands of job cuts elsewhere. The Brazilian plant makes heavy commercial trucks, and Ford will no longer be offering those in South America. BBC
The U.S. should not be accusing China of currency manipulation when the yuan is effectively pegged to the dollar, argues Bloomberg‘s Shuli Ren: “The reality is that if the U.S. wants the yuan to be stable, it needs to steady the greenback first. Trump has repeatedly criticized the Federal Reserve on Twitter for raising interest rates, and has made no secret of his desire for a weaker dollar. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell finally changed tack in December, suggesting he would be more cautious about future rate increases. In other parts of the world, such a chain of events could easily be perceived as currency manipulation.” Bloomberg
Google forgot to tell buyers of its Nest Secure home security and alarm system that the devices had microphones inside them. As a result, customers were surprised to learn this month that they’d soon be able to use Google Assistant with their security camera. Google: “The microphone has never been on, and is only activated when users specifically enable the option. Security systems often use microphones to provide features that rely on sound sensing.” Business Insider
Theresa May is in Brussels for a meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker today, in her latest last-ditch attempt to get the EU to water down the Irish-border “backstop” to a degree that will let the British prime minister get the Brexit deal through Parliament. Will it happen? Overwhelmingly unlikely, but stay tuned anyway. Fortune