Internet startups, VCs in India raise concerns over Facebook-Jio deal

Photo: Reuters

A slew of venture capital firms and internet startups, including South African internet giant Naspers Ventures, plan to appeal to India’s anti-trust regulator over concerns of data sharing and misuse in Facebook Inc.’s ₹43,574 crore investment in Jio Platforms Ltd, said three people aware of the development.

The appeal is yet to be filed before the Competition Commission of India (CCI), even as the Facebook-Jio deal is currently under scrutiny by the latter, pending approval.

Mint couldn’t ascertain the identity of the other VC and Internet firms said to be involved in the petition.

Naspers, which has invested in Indian startups Byju’s, PayU, Swiggy and Meesho among others, perceives that the Facebook-Jio deal may competitively impact some of its portfolio firms, said two of the people cited above.

For instance, Naspers’ portfolio firm Meesho, a special commerce platform had earlier raised $25 million from Facebook.

The South Africa-based firm wants CCI to look into data-sharing arrangements between Jio and Facebook, since India lacks a comprehensive data security and sharing regulation, they said.

A spokesperson for Naspers declined to comment.

Jio also has made more than ten investments in internet firms such as Fynd, EasyGov and Embibe.

In April, Facebook bought a 9.99% stake in Jio Platforms for $5.7 billion. Jio is a subsidiary of Reliance Industries Ltd.

In January, Jio overtook other telecom companies to become the number one operator in India in terms of both subscriber base as well as revenue market share. The Mukesh Ambani-led firm commands a 32% market share with a base of over 1.15 billion SIM card connections.

CCI, which is reviewing the Facebook-Jio deal, is also considering whether new parameters should be included in its assessment criteria.

Peculiarities such as “strong network effects, high returns to scale and access to huge amount of data may incentivize digital firms to engage in anti-competitive conduct,” a Bloomberg report said on Wednesday, quoting CCI chairman Ashok Kumar Gupta, without referring to any particular case.

Legal experts told Mint that Jio and Facebook both command a dominant position in their respective markets. Hence, the CCI’s review will have to separately look at whether their dominant positions might lead to data monopoly in the future.

“CCI will need to closely examine the terms of the deal, and scrutinize any deal-term that could lead to potential abuse both of their dominant position, especially from the perspective of big data. In the absence of a valid data protection authority in India, this analysis is important since there are questions being raised (by experts, critics) around potential abuse of power,” said a Bengaluru-based lawyer who advises digital firms, asking not to be named.

In the past, Facebook had run into several stumbling blocks with Indian regulators, especially on net neutrality. In early 2015, both Facebook and Anil Ambani-led Reliance Communications forged a partnership to offer Free Basics in India—a massive Facebook project that used to provide free access to a dozen digital products and services.

India’s telecom regulator TRAI, however, found it to be “discriminatory” as it violated net neutrality norms, after which the service was discontinued in the country.

This article was first published on livemint.com.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.