ETtech Evening Briefing on Mar. 4, 2021: WhatsApp calling comes to the laptop

Good evening,

You can now make voice and video calls on WhatsApp through its desktop app, the company said earlier today, adding that these calls, just as on mobile, will be end-to-end encrypted. This comes after the government announced strict new rules for social media and chat platforms last week, and WhatsApp said in response that it “would not bend” on the issue of privacy.

Elsewhere in today’s letter:

  • 🛒 Flipkart eyes US listing via SPAC
  • 💰 Razorpay’s ESOPs buyback
  • 🍪 Third-party cookies explained

WhatsApp launches voice and video calls from desktop

WhatsApp said it has
launched ‘private’ and ‘secure’ one-to-one voice and video calls on the platform’s desktop app.

The messaging giant said it is doing so since calling on a bigger screen makes it easier to work with colleagues, see families more clearly or free up hands and move around while talking. Just like on mobile phones, video and voice calls on the desktop will stay end-to-end encrypted, it said.

Last week, the Indian government
introduced new rules to regulate social media platforms. The new norms have a ‘traceability’ requirement, which would require platforms such as WhatsApp and Signal break end-to-end encryption to trace the ‘first originator’ of any message the government deems illegal. WhatsApp said in response that it “would not bend” on the issue of its users’ privacy.

Flipkart eyes US listing via SPAC

Flipkart is
eyeing a US listing through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), Bloomberg reported. Flipkart has reached out to several SPACs and could seek a valuation of at least $35 billion, the report said.

What are SPACs? One of the hottest trends among dealmakers in Silicon Valley, SPACs, sometimes called ‘blank cheque’ companies, are shell companies created with the sole intention of merging with a private business. These firms list on the stock exchanges without any real business and raise money from investors. They then typically buy private firms and help them go public quickly without the hassle of a traditional IPO. A SPAC has two years to find a company to acquire or it must return the funds to investors.

Read our explainer on SPACs here.

Tweet of the Day

Google promises ‘privacy-preserving’ alternatives to 3rd-party cookies


Google announced yesterday that once it phases out third-party cookies from its Chrome browser, it will only use technologies that preserve people’s privacy in their place.

The company had said last January that it would phase out third-party cookies—which can be used to track individual users across websites and target ads—from Chrome within two years.

  • “Today, we’re making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products,” David Temkin, Google’s director of product management, ads privacy and trust, wrote in a blog.

What are third-party cookies? To understand that we first need to understand what a cookie is.

A cookie is a small piece of data your web browser stores on your computer when you visit a website. Its purpose is to help the website keep track of your visits and activity.

For example, an online retailer may use cookies to keep track of the items in your cart as you explore the site so that they don’t disappear each time you click a new link on the site. They can also be used to remember things that you previously entered into form fields.

There are broadly two types of cookies: first-party and third-party.

First-party cookies are stored by the website you are visiting directly. They allow the website to collect analytics data, remember language settings, and perform other useful functions to improve your experience.

Third-party cookies on the other hand are created by websites other than the one you are visiting directly. They are mainly (though not always) used for tracking and online-advertising. These are the cookies that Google plans to phase out from Chrome by next year.

Why is Google phasing out third-party cookies? Google’s tracking of its Chrome users’ browsing habits to deliver highly targeted ads has been widely criticised. In its announcement on Tuesday the company itself cited a study by the Pew Research Center which found that 72% of people feel that almost all of what they do online is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms or other companies, and 81% say that the potential risks they face because of data collection outweigh the benefits.

Incidentally, Apple began blocking all third-party cookies on its
Safari browser by default last May, while
Firefox did so in September 2019.

Razorpay’s ESOPs buyback


Razorpay has
announced its third ESOP buyback programme worth $10 million for its 750 employees. The fintech major is one of India’s youngest startups to have facilitated the ESOP programme for the past three years. All existing and former employees of Razorpay who hold vested stocks will be eligible to sell up to 33% of their vested ESOP shares.

Who’s buying? Sequoia Capital India and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC, two of Razorpay’s key investors.

On the up: In October 2020, the company
closed a $100 million financing round co-led by GIC and Sequoia Capital, in the process becoming the first Indian neo-bank to top $1 billion in valuation. Last month, ET reported that Razorpay was in
talks with its existing investor GIC, which is Singapore’s sovereign investment fund, and others to raise $150-200 million in a financing round that could see its valuation nearly double to $2 billion in less than six months.

ETtech Done Deals

■ E-commerce startup
DealShare has
landed Rs 25 crore in debt funding from Innoven Capital. The company said it would use the funds to scale its presence to 100 cities by the end of 2021 and provide users with a gamified shopping experience.

■ Edtech platform
Questt has
raised $1.35 million in a seed funding round led by Chiratae Ventures. AET Fund and angel investors including Sanpdeal’s Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal, and Razorpay founders Harshil Mathur and Shashank Kumar also participated in the round through Marsshot Ventures. The startup plans to use the investment to expand its reach and include all post-kindergarten grades in the coming months.

Euler Motors has
picked up Rs 30 crore as part of its ongoing series A round led by existing investors Inventus India and Jetty Ventures. Sujeet Kumar, co-founder of Udaan, participated in the round along with new investors Srinivas Anumolu and K Ganesh from Growth Story.

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