Netflix has eyes for your kids

Also in today's edition: Twitter takedowns, legalising weed, ByteDance wants to deliver you food

Good morning! Indian Matchmaking, the cringefest that Netflix passed off as a reality show, has been nominated for an Emmy. It seems the amazing lack of self-awareness and making a caricature of Indians appealed to some audiences and those who got it a nomination. You can’t script this. Literally.

Anyway, on to the day’s stories:

  1. Biden and Xi are “showing some flexibility”. 

  2. Just Dial has another suitor.

  3. It’s not really made in India.

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Big Tech’s Continues Its Child Play

Big Tech is targeting kids. But you already knew it. Only this time, it's about familiar rivals in Amazon and Netflix taking different routes to get to kids. Or their parents. Or both.

‘Alexa, get em young’: Amazon worked on, but has not yet launched, an Alexa-powered wearable device for children that parents could use to communicate with and monitor them. Codenamed Seeker, the wearable device would have come with a year's subscription to Amazon's Kids+.

YouTube, please? Netflix on the other hand, has taken the kids’ space seriously. How? Believe it or not, by turning to YouTube, and acquiring popular kids franchises from offshoots of YouTube channels. CoComelon for example. Not just that, it wants parents to take charge as well. Enter a biweekly ‘Kids Recap Email’ feature, designed to give “parents a better understanding of their child’s content preferences”, besides a “Kids Top 10” row. This is in addition to other parental controls.

Netflix and chil-dren: Habit formation is a key element of conditioning the customer psyche. Catching them young could help companies like Netflix and Amazon build a loyal base of potential spenders. Not only do about 60% of Netflix’s 208 million users watch kids and family content, but kids also don’t typically move on to the next show as hastily as adults - a helpful habit for an entity that wants regular subscribers.

Not again! Guess who’s in their sights? Disney, the OG of family-friendly entertainment. Sounds familiar?

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India Has China Fever For Now

Despite India’s best efforts to curb Chinese imports, trade with the neighbour, its biggest trading partner, soared by a record 62.7% in the first half of 2021. China shipped medical equipment and tonnes of drugs while India exported iron ore, aluminium and copper.

Rocky relations: Last year, the two countries had faced off on their Himalayan border, triggering shrill calls to boycott Chinese goods. The government banned over 250 apps, including the popular short-video maker TikTok and video game PUBG. It also raised tariff barriers on several imports.

Buoyed by pandemic: In April, when the second wave of the pandemic hit, India imported more than 26,000 ventilators and oxygen generators from China. Bilateral trade after six months of 2021 was $57.48 billion, compared to $44.72 billion before the pandemic. Imports from China grew 60% year on year to $42 billion while exports to that country rose about 70% to cross $14 billion. As the numbers show, it is not easy for India to ‘decouple’ itself from China.

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Biden And Xi Agree on Big (Tech)

One of Mark Zuckerberg’s greatest fears is “that regulators would one day break up his social network”. The fear is existential, not only for Facebook and Amazon but also Alibaba and Didi Chuxing.

Joe’s US: The presence of Federal Trade Commissioner Lina Khan by US President Joe Biden’s side as he signed the executive order to promote competition and curb US corporate power was a clear message. Despite puttingone over the government last month, Facebook lost no time following Amazon in requesting the recusal of the antitrust enforcer Khan from its case.

Behind the wall: On the other side of the world, Alibaba and Tencent are looking at opening up (WeChat Pay on Alibaba's e-commerce, for example, and Alibaba on WeChat's mini-programs) their separate ecosystem to each other's services. It’s a result of the Internet watchdog Cyberspace Administration of China, which directly reports to a commission headed by President Xi Jingping, ruthlessly going after them for anti-competitive practices and data security.

The Signal

Biden and Xi believe that Big Tech should be tamed, but for different reasons. Both have chosen antitrust as their weapon of choice. However, that’s where the similarity ends. Even the targets’ responses are divergent; US companies have chosen to fight while the Chinese prefer flight.

At the core of the tussle is the power that flows from possessing vast amounts of data. Biden wants to stop them from using it to become monopolies, a direct affront to American capitalism, as he sees it, with “open and fair competition” at its heart.

Xi’s crackdown recognises that data is not only the next big driver of economic growth but also the greatest tool to build order. The government wants to effectively nationalise data, elevating its status to other factors of production such as land, labour, and capital in its economic plans. For China, the crackdown, while necessary, is a means to an end.

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Reliance Desires A Phonebook

Reliance is about to acquire Just Dial in a deal that would value the listing company anywhere between $800 million and $900 million, according to an Economic Times report. So advanced are the talks that the deal will be announced as you read this. Now. Check.

If it isn’t, we won’t be too surprised. This is a dance that has played out a few times. Remember when Just Dial was about to be acquired by Tata or Google?

But let’s say it did happen.

Why? There are two ways of looking at it. Why does Reliance want to buy it and why does Just Dial want to sell? Just Dial is an antiquated business. When was the last time you Just Dial-ed? It shifted from being a discovery platform for customers to merchants but Google does it and does it better. Why does RIL want a piece of it? JioMart. For one of the key ways to make its new age WhatsApp-led play work, it needs a plethora of merchants. A resource that Just Dial has.

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ICYMI

A notch in its belt: The upcoming Tokyo Olympics will arguably mark the pinnacle of a journey that began sometime in the 14th century. That of a martial art brought by Chinese practitioners to Japan’s Okinawa prefecture, whose citizens were later forbidden from carrying swords. Thus the martial art became popular, was hybridised, and came to be known as kara-te, “Chinese hand.” Take a timely deep dive with the Smithsonian Magazine.

What a mess: What do you gift a man who has it all? A 50% reduction in his wages, if you’re FC Barcelona. The Spanish football club, through years of financial imprudence, has dug itself into a situation whereby it has to cut around $200 million from its wage bill. Else it will not be allowed to register any new players for next season. This includes Lionel Messi, who won the Copa America with Argentina last weekend, has played his entire professional career at the Catalan club, and let his contract with it expire in June. Will it manage to make the cut?

Right to repair: Remember when Apple admitted it intentionally throttled older iPhones? Similarly, it makes product repair rather expensive and difficult. It also has prohibitive conditions for vendors who want to become authorised service centres. Apple claims this isn’t to softly arm-twist customers into upgrading to newer models, but for their own good. Now, it (along with Microsoft, Amazon, and Google) is lobbying against an executive order from the US President to limit tech manufacturers’ repair restrictions. Here’s why you should care.

An entanglement with Facebook: CrowdTangle, a data analytics tool owned by Facebook since 2016, had been running quasi-independently to analyse Facebook trends and measure post performance. That is until April, when it found itself being moved under the integrity team, working to rid the platform of misinformation and hate speech. The reason: a clash between Facebook executives on whether to only expose curated information from the data or share it all, the good, bad, and ugly.

Rein it in: Some regions in Finland exceeded their sustainability targets. The reward? A proposed relaxation in the rules to allow an increase of over 30% in logging. This poses an existential threat to the Sami, a semi-nomadic people who trace their Arctic lineage back thousands of years and mainly herd reindeer. There are only about 80,000 Sami remaining today, mostly in Norway, with around 10,000 in Finland. Read this Reuters report on what, from one perspective, could amount to cultural genocide.

Thums Up? Coca-Cola is changing the taste and look of one of its most popular soft drinks: Coke Zero. Not a big deal, right? Companies try new flavours all the time. Well, not if you’re Coke. Not after it sent all of the USA into a meltdown when it did so in 1985, including a lawsuit that tried to make it return to its original formula. Enjoy this throwback from The New York Times.

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What Else Made The Signal?

Knock knock: Under its bi-annual Transparency Report, Twitter has revealed that India was the single largest source of government information requests between July and December 2020. It also saw a surge in government demands worldwide to take down content posted by journalists and news outlets in 2020, with India again topping the chart.

Ka-ching: News aggregator Inshorts has raised $60 million led by Vy Capital, while regional language storytelling platform Pratilipi has raised $48 million led by PUBG-maker, Krafton.

Easing up: The Indian government has proposed The Draft Drone Rules 2021 to simplify procedures and reduce compliance burdens on the drone industry. This will supersede the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules 2021 that came into effect in March this year.

Good influence: The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has partnered with French technology provider Reech to start enforcing its influencer advertising guidelines.

Opening a can(nabis): Democrats in the US have released the draft of a bill that looks to decriminalise marijuana at a federal level.

Combo play: Bytedance has reportedly set up a team for food delivery in China so you can have a bite while you watch ‘em dance.

Progress: Nearly a third of Indian adults have now received at least one jab of a Covid-19 vaccination.

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That's it from us this week. Have a great weekend.