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JD exits Southeast Asia, Animoca gears up for crypto winter and more
[And we are back] Asia Tech Review: 6 February 2023
The newsletter has made its belated arrival to 2023 after a very lengthy hiatus. Since I have more time on my hands for the time being, I intend to get back to weekly emails and explore doing more with Asia Tech Review.
If you’re a reader, firstly thank you for sticking around, and, secondly, I’m curious about what else you’d like to see. More regular newsletters? Sure. A more active Twitter account that shares news? Weekly articles on Asia tech articles? Opinion pieces from notable folks in Asia? In-person meetups?
See you in your inbox again next week.
Stories in focus
In keeping with e-commerce companies scaling back, China’s JD pulled the plug on its businesses in Thailand (Central JD) and Indonesia (JD.ID) by March order to focus on logistics and growing in China, where it competes with Alibaba.
Central JD, a joint venture with retail giant Central, was set up in September 2017 (I remember writing about it like it was yesterday) as part of a $500M deal covering online shopping and payments in Thailand. Oddly, though, Central has its own e-commerce play. JD.ID, meanwhile, had been touted as a unicorn after raising funding before Covid, but times can change quickly.
The FT looks at Hong Kong-based crypto giant Animoca, once a struggling stock on Australia’s ASX, and whether it can weather the current freeze around all things web3. The company has an expansive range of investments across web3—including extensive gaming and metaverse properties—but it hasn’t stopped there. Over the last six months, it launched a $100M, raised funding on more moderate terms and it is dealing with a loss in value of some of its crypto holdings. Yet it is planning a new $1B fund. “It’s pretty chilly, but it’s not as cold as it was four years ago,” says Yat Siu, chairman and co-founder.
Policy experts argue that TikTok is taking a leaf out of the Huawei transparency playbook as it bids to continue to serve US customers and keep peace in Washington.
Just last week, it outlined ‘Project Texas’—its US survival plan that will see it create a dedicated ‘Data Security’ (USDS) business which will handle US user data, handle content moderation decisions and other functions deemed national security concerns. The data security business will be governed by an independent board selected by TikTok and CFIUS, but it will report to CFIUS with Oracle overseeing its data flow. CFIUS will also specify requirements for hiring at USDS, with all workers required to be US citizens or green card holders.
USDS is estimated to cost TikTok $1.5B to set up, and $700M-$1B in annual expenses. What is less clear, however, is how it will impact the average experience of users in the US. Data transiting overseas—in the case a user views a video from a non-US user, or an overseas user engages with US content—is tipped to make the app’s performance slower.
Baidu will reportedly launch a ChatGPT-style bot in March—the service will live as a standalone application with the technology gradually merged into Baidu’s search engine to generate written results and not just links link
Jack Dorsey’s new project Damus, a decentralised social network, was pulled from the Apple App Store in China just two days after launch ostensibly because it includes “content that is illegal in China” link
Inside three turbulent months at Foxconn’s iPhone factory—workers describe a peak production season marred by labour protests and Covid-19 chaos, right as Apple reconsiders its China supply chain link
China’s top nuclear-weapons research institute has been found to have bought sophisticated US computer chips from the likes of Intel and Nvidia at least a dozen times in the past 2.5 years via China-based resellers—in doing so it circumvented decades-old American export restrictions meant to curb such sales link
The US may sanction Chinese companies that provided surveillance technology to Iran’s security forces—which have been used to identify protests and female citizens who violate the state’s strict dress code link
Xiaomi is looking to improve its decision-making after establishing two new governance bodies in wake of management reshuffles and slumping sales link
[Those exits include Manu Jain, the executive who set up and scaled Xiaomi’s India business—its most successful outside of China link]
India is moving to block 232 apps that offer betting and loan services to prevent misuse of citizen data and fraud—a number of the apps include links to China link
WazirX, a crypto exchange which clashed with Binance claiming it had been acquired by the crypto giant, has removed its funds and customer funds from Binance to seemingly end their spat or at least the potential for user funds to be lost between the two link
MIT Technology Review looks at how health workers in India are using WhatsApp to fight misinformation and battle the country’s high maternal mortality rate link
E-commerce services in India are beginning to end the policy of free returns link
Lyka, a social media app that let users earn crypto, took off in the Philippines—becoming the third-most downloaded app after Facebook and TikTok—before hitting a wall when the central bank ordered it to stop making transactions as it wasn’t licensed. Now its Silicon Valley-based CEO is planning a reboot and expansion to other markets in Southeast Asia link
Also in the Philippines, Bitcoin-based payment service Strike is entering the local market where it sees potential to eat into the huge remittance market link
Freightify, a Singapore-based vertical SaaS platform, raised $12M led by Sequoia Capital India link
MUFG, Japan's largest bank, is targeting Indonesia with the launch of a $100M dedicated to startups in the country—the fund will see MUFG link up with Indonesian bank Danamon link
Z Holdings was supposed to be Japan’s tech monster after it merged with chat app giant Line, but things haven’t gone according to plan. Now the alliance is taking on another member, with Z Holdings announcing plans to merge with Line and Yahoo, two of its wholly-owned subsidiaries, in a bid to develop new products and position itself as an AI business link
Netflix Japan says it used AI-generated artwork to paint some backgrounds in new animated series Dog & The Boy—it says it took the step due to an apparent labour shortage link
Apple has got the green light to bring its Apple Pay service to South Korea link
Pakistan blocked access to Wikipedia after the service did not act on order to remove content available in the country that is deemed “sacrilegious”—the national telecom authority said it had given Wikipedia a 48 hour deadline before activating the block link
Rest of Asia
Famed US investor and early Bitcoin owner Tim Draper pitched Sri Lanka’s central bank governor on the benefits of adopting Bitcoin—as happened in El Salvador—only to be rejected link
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