Did India buy Windows hack from US co?

Also in today’s edition: WhatsApp is Facebook’s e-commerce spearhead, Competition watchdog says Google abuses dominance, Big Tech get India farm data

Good morning! The first space tourists, after Jeff Bezos, his brother, and Richard Branson, splashed down in the Atlantic. The tourists spent three days in space and were accompanied by a team of doctors. All of this to raise capital for a hospital in Memphis.


The Market Signal 

Stocks: Several government announcements, including a lifeline for the beleaguered telecom sector and setting up of a bad assets bank fuelled bullish sentiments last week pushing the indices to set new records. India’s volatility index has moved up sharply, indicating stocks could be range-bound in the coming week. Markets would be looking out for interest rate cues from a Federal Reserve meeting this week.


WhatsApp’s Yellow Pages Move

Remember the Yellow Pages directory? That fat yellow book your parents likely owned but rarely used? WhatsApp, in São Paulo, Brazil, is testing a new feature on those lines. It would allow the user to look up and contact businesses — shops and services in your neighbourhood — inside the apps.

Trifecta: Finding these stores, or discovery, is considered one of the three important elements for a successful e-commerce business, and that is at the heart of WhatsApp's (or Facebook’s) plans. This, these companies hope, will nicely dovetail with WhatsApp’s payments push in India, its largest market. It also means users can not only discover but also make in-app transactions (or payments) and access customer support. Facebook wants to go beyond, allowing businesses to interact with users across its apps, including WhatsApp.

Not that simple: Facebook wanting to integrate WhatsApp created problems for the latter earlier this year when it updated its privacy policy. People were terrified that their WhatsApp chats would be shared with Facebook, leading to questions from governments.

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What South Korea Does, India Follows

A couple of weeks ago, we told you that what happened in South Korea wouldn't stay there. A few days after Seoul fined Google for abusing its dominance in the operating systems market, India has followed suit with a similar conclusion. Albeit without a fine just yet.

What: The Competition Commission of India’s (CCI) investigation arm noted that Google effectively stifled manufacturers from developing and selling devices operating on “alternate versions of Android”, Reuters reported. This included the mandatory pre-installation of apps, besides Google leveraging its Play Store “to protect its dominance” by enforcing policies the regulators’ report found to be “vague, one-sided and arbitrary”.

What next? The findings are yet to be formally considered by the CCI, which is also probing various other instances of Google allegedly abusing Android’s market dominance in other markets such as digital payments (Google Pay) and smart TVs. It will now review the report, and “give Google another chance to defend itself, before issuing a final order”, the Reuters report added. A final order could include penalties, or force Google to rejig its practices in line with India’s competition law.


India likely abused Windows hack: US co

India may have bought a US company’s information service on vulnerabilities in operating systems and used it for espionage, Forbes magazine has claimed

Zero-day: US company Exodus sells information, which the magazine described as “akin to a Facebook news feed of software vulnerabilities”, on Windows, Android, and Apple iOS for up to $2,50,000 annually. Exodus CEO and co-founder Logan Brown told Forbes that India may have purchased and weaponised the feed. Brown said the company has blocked India from buying new zero-day research as it believes the vulnerability that India handpicked allowed deep access to Microsoft’s operating system and the government or a contractor adapted it to spy on neighbours. Exodus worked with Microsoft to patch the chinks.

The Signal

Countries snooping on one another is a global reality and Exodus does sell information and tools to exploit vulnerabilities to the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand that share an intelligence alliance known as Five Eyes. Curiously, Brown says it does not want to be a party to India spying on China and Pakistan.

He, however, hints India could have used another flaw that allowed a hacker to get higher privileges on a Windows computer. That revelation comes on the heels of allegations reported by The Washington Post that evidence was planted on the computers of some activists before they were arrested and jailed. In a case involving the alleged use of Israeli company NSO Group’s spyware Pegasus by Indian agencies to target opposition leaders, journalists, and activists, the government recently told the Supreme Court that it cannot reveal to the public whether a “particular software was used or not”. That is cagey when India does not yet have a comprehensive privacy law and no parliamentary oversight of intelligence agencies.

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Big Tech Logs On To Farms 

The government of India will hand over India’s granular farming data that it has been collecting for the past seven years to Amazon, Microsoft, and Cisco Systems to run them through their data analytics and artificial intelligence tools to help boost productivity. Homegrown Jio Platforms, ITC, and a slew of other startups have also signed up for the project.  

One database: Data on Indian farms such as soil health, cropping and weather patterns, and insurance coverage will be fed into a single database and the companies would build apps and other tech solutions for farmers after analysing the data. 

The flip side: Indian farmers are in the midst of protesting a contentious farm bill. Big private firms are often viewed with suspicion and allowing them into the agricultural sector may add fuel to the unrest. 


Covid-19 Third Wave Likely To Be Mild

India is shattering Covid-19 records. In a good way. The country has administered 100 million jabs in the last 11 days. This comes shortly after it topped China’s record of vaccinating 24.7 million people with 25 million shots in a single day on September 17, the day prime minister Narendra Modi celebrated his 71st birthday.

No third wave? Virologist Gagandeep Kang says that a third wave is likely to be much milder than the devastating second wave. Kang says although local flare-ups could happen, only a new variant would inflict the kind of death and devastation the country saw between March and May. 

Around the world: Meanwhile, Italy has become the first European country to mandate the “green pass” or health pass with Covid-19 vaccination and other details for everyone in the country. France’s compulsory vaccination for its healthcare, home care, and fire staff led to 3,000 health workers being suspended. In Japan, Taro Kono, the minister responsible for vaccinations, is leading in the electoral poll.

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What Else Made The Signal? 

Unsafe: The data protection bill can result in social media companies being held liable for all content, including third-party content, that they were so far not responsible for.  

Get your game on: In a $10 million deal, NODWIN Gaming, Nazara Technologies’ esports subsidiary has acquired the gaming and related intellectual property of OML Entertainment. 

We all chat: China’s Big Tech’s walled gardens are crumbling. For the first time WeChat messaging service is allowing its users to link to and access rival platforms such as Taobao and Douyin.

Get out: Apple and Google removed Navalny, a voting app from supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bete noire Alexey Navalny after Russia accused the US of “meddling in its internal affairs”.  

Funding alert: Fantasy gaming platform Dream11’s founder and CEO Harsh Jain has started an investment fund for early-to-mid-stage startups with a likely investment of $100 million. 

Tax update: The Goods and Services Tax Council has slashed taxes on over a dozen drugs, fixed variances on certain items, and asked transport and food delivery e-commerce companies to directly collect tax from drivers and eateries.


FWIW

Spot on guard: Hyundai’s Kia manufacturing plant has a new watchdog – a robot. Christened The Spot, the remote-controlled guard will have AI capabilities to detect threats.

The new bomb: The Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen “Zoom bombed” his political opponents’ video call to sound the alarm about how his spies and he have an eye on them.

About turn: How is the British government using its post-Brexit freedom, you ask? By reverting to its original imperial system of weights, i.e. pounds and ounces, in all its markets. 

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