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The next global tech giant may come from India

August 24, 2020, 1:47 PM UTC

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It occurred to me slowly, then all at once during the aughts, that I wasn’t paying sufficient attention to Alibaba and Tencent. I had a good excuse:  the twin giants of the Chinese Internet had no impact on my life, business or personal. I couldn’t use their products, and they made little or no effort in the U.S. market.

Over time, I came to understand why it was so important to be mindful of the duo anyway. Alibaba and Tencent (and Alibaba’s affiliate Ant Group and Tencent’s WeChat service) are innovators and mega-cap powerhouses in the world’s second largest economy. That they’ve built their businesses with discriminatory protection from the Chinese government is a fact that doesn’t minimize their importance.

I raise this now because there’s a similar Internet goliath that has suddenly sprung up in India that absolutely bears watching. It’s called Jio Platforms, and it is the subject of a revelatory feature by Vivienne Walt in the current issue of Fortune.

Jio is the brainchild of Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man and head of a petrochemical-focused empire, Reliance Industries. The story of how Ambani built a modern cell-phone network from scratch, attracted hundreds of millions of subscribers (many of whom had never had a cell phone before), and then raised  billions from a who’s who of global strategic and financial investors is epic. As Egon Durban, co-CEO of Jio investor Silver Lake puts it, Jio is “the world’s greatest private tech company hidden in plain sight.”

And yes, there’s a political component to the Jio story. India, like China, has a record of favoring homegrown talent and frustrating outsiders. And Jio, like Alibaba and Tencent, is highly attuned to the vagaries of its own government.

Jio is a just-in-India phenomenon for now. You’ve got plenty of time to catch up with its importance.


A couple comments on recent news:

1. Maybe I didn’t pay close enough attention, but could someone please explain why there’s any reason Oracle, an enterprise software company that wouldn’t know a consumer interaction, let alone a teenage user, if it saw one would buy Tik Tok? Was this just a run-of-the-mill Trumpian stable genius comment?

2. It’s certainly arguable that California’s law requiring Uber and Lyft drivers be classified as employees is a bad law with unintended consequences. What’s inarguable is that it has been the law of the state since Jan. 1, 2020, and the ride-hailing and contractor delivery companies chose not to abide by it—while also paying for a ballot initiative to overturn it. (Engadget’s Nicole Lee makes this point and has a good summary of the issue here.) Their contention that they didn’t have time to prepare for a more recent court order (since stayed) and therefore needed to shut down temporarily in the state is laughable on the face of it.

Adam Lashinsky


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.


Bobbing and weaving. Speaking of Tencent, protestations by the likes of Walmart, GM, and Apple appear to have had an impact. The White House reportedly will allow U.S. companies to continue doing business with the dominant Chinese messaging app in China. As for TikTok, a majority of Americans, 50%, oppose President Trump's possible ban of the app, while 41% support it and 9% are unsure, according to a poll by Fortune and SurveyMonkey. TikTok is expected to file a lawsuit to block the ban any minute. And count me highly skeptical of the Wall Street Journal story blaming Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for Trump's anti-TikTok moves.

Every battle is won before it is fought. While we're in battle mode, Apple on Friday defended terminating Epic Games' iOS developer account, saying it was the Fortnite publisher that sought improper special treatment. In newly disclosed emails to Apple CEO Tim Cook, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney asked if his company could offer its own games store on the iPhone. In my nomination for best cut-and-paste error of the year, Sweeney's big email ends with: "Apple is not willing to make the changes necessary to allow us to provide Android customers with the option of choosing their app store." That would be quite a change for Apple to give options to Android customers. Nice.

Epic also got some reinforcements as took its side and Microsoft went so far as to file its own brief in court opposing Apple's moves. "Ensuring that Epic has access to the latest Apple technology is the right thing for gamer developers & gamers," Xbox boss Phil Spencer tweeted.

Publish or perish. In not unrelated Apple news, Apple rejected the mobile app of popular blogging platform WordPress, seeking to force the free app to add some kind of in-app purchase capability, but then reversed course after a public outcry. "We have informed the developer and apologize for any confusion that we have caused," Apple said in a statement.

King Kong, kick the drum. In considerably happier news, the K-Pop group BTS broke the record for the most views of a video on YouTube in a single day. The South Korean group's music video "Dynamite" racked up more than 101 million view in its first 24 hours online.

I know it when I see it. We can debate whether the IPO market is heading into dangerous bubble territory yet, but this headline made me think, hmm, yeah, maybe: Paul Ryan jumps onto the SPAC train. And Peter Thiel-backed autonomous car startup Luminar is going public in a SPAC deal. In less weird IPO news, DoorDash wants to go public the usual way with Wall Street banks in the fourth quarter, following expected debuts from its unicorn brethren Airbnb and Palantir.

You will see that my piranha fish get very hungry. The summer shortage of Elon Musk news comes to an end on Aug. 28. That's when the Tesla master and world's fourth richest person plans to unveil the new version of his direct interface between the human brain and computers, called Neuralink. Expect lots of speculation about whether we're living in a computer simulation and a meme or two about which comic book super villain Musk now most resembles.


Social distancing has a serious emotional cost, as people socialize less and don't hug or shake hands anymore. Our Fortune colleague Danielle Abril spoke to some mental health experts about what's been lost and what people can do to feel better.

David Spiegel, a Stanford University School of Medicine professor and director of the school’s Center on Stress and Health, said that physical touch often has soothing effects, as it lowers the stress hormone cortisol that can weaken the immune system. Touch also increases levels of serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin—the hormones related to happiness. Just like a child often needs to be held to be soothed, adults often need human touch to be reassured. At a time when adults might be more stressed than normal, given the global pandemic, people who live alone are going without that reassurance.

“Let’s just be realistic: it’s a real loss. It’s a real need,” Spiegel said. “We’re social creatures, and our most intimate connections are physical.”


Who is Dave Clark, the new chief of Amazon’s giant retail business? By Aaron Pressman

A pair of twin YouTubers offer a lesson in openness By Ellen McGirt

5 companies that want to track your emotions By Miri Polachek

‘There’s going to be a selloff in the stock market’ if Congress doesn’t pass more stimulus By Lance Lambert and Anne Sraders

Uncharted’s Jessica Matthew’s has a plan to revive America’s crumbling infrastructure By Brooke Henderson

Why are local governments paying Amazon to destroy Main Street? By Pat Garofalo

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)


We might not have Siri or Alexa without her. Psychologist and computer science researcher Ann Syrdal, who passed away last month, was a pioneer in developing synthetic voices that sounded like women. A key innovation was to abandon generating sounds from computers and instead patching together bits of real human speech. Have a chatty start to your week.

Aaron Pressman