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US Tech Overseas: eBay Expands in India; Zynga Plays Poker, Facebook Joke Causes Stir in China


American tech names' latest international moves.

While you're considering whether the just-announced Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) mobile software is a fabulous idea or a dud, keep this in mind: The company may not care whether you love it or hate it. Facebook's real aim may be a cheap, Facebook-centric phone for price-conscious consumers in developing countries, including India. It's not a coincidence that it will be available first on a $99 HTC (TPE:2498) phone called HTC First.

Best-case scenario: Millions will buy a Facebook-centric phone for their first smartphone, maybe even their first Web access. They'll see Facebook Home every time they turn on their phones. Their Web activity will be driven by Facebook, the ads they see will be delivered by Facebook. In their experience, Facebook and Web will be interchangeable terms.

To understand what American technology companies are doing and why they're doing it, you need to move into unfamiliar territory. Here's what just a few of them did this week, and why.

Ebay Wins a Stake in India

EBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) is the lead investor in a $50 million round of investments that won it a minority stake in Snapdeal, a hot young startup in India. Snapdeal launched in 2010 as a "daily deals" site, but later morphed into an online marketplace.

EBay India would not comment on the record. The Hindu, quoting an anonymous source, said the company had evaluated 30 Web companies on the subcontinent to find the right fit. An unconfirmed report said Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) also had been interested in Snapdeal.

EBay India has about 5 million users, while Snapdeal claims it has 20 million.

Zynga Rolls the Dice

Now that Zynga (NASDAQ:ZNGA) has opened a real-money online casino for gamblers in Great Britain, the company can be expected to move to expand it quickly. Other European countries where online gambling is legal are the next likely spots for introduction of Zynga-Plus Poker and Zynga-Plus Casino later this year, according to The Times of India.

The company thrilled investors with the news that its casino was open for business in Great Britain; the stock closed up 15% in trading in the US on Wednesday.

The company reportedly is developing Web versions of the games using only virtual money for the US. But it is keeping one eye on Washington, where new federal regulations for Internet gambling are being considered.

Zynga has been struggling for new revenue sources as its older games decline in popularity. The company has not offered guidance on the potential bottom-line impact of its gambling initiative.

European Watchdogs Gang Up on Google

Privacy watchdog agencies in six European nations this week announced an investigation into Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) for alleged abuses of personal data. The investigation could lead to fines or restrictions on Google operations across the European Union, according to The Daily Mail.

Google is accused of violating consumer privacy protections by collecting excessive amounts of information, keeping it for too long, and not giving its users enough control over the use of their data.

The investigation stems from the changes to its privacy policy Google announced in March 2012. Those changes included combining user data from across all Google sites, including YouTube and Gmail. The regulators said Google's response to their demands for more information was "incomplete or approximate."

The countries that say they will investigate further include Britain, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, and Spain.

BlackBerry's Emerging Markets Legacy

While BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) is introducing its new BlackBerry 10 smartphones, it will recycle its older BlackBerry 7 operating system in a range of low-end and mid-priced phones for sale in emerging markets.

The BlackBerry brand kept its cool in emerging markets long after losing it in the US. But consumers there are more price-sensitive, and many are considering a smartphone for the first time.

A recent survey of consumers in four emerging nations, for marketing technology firm Upstream, found that Samsung (PINK:SSNLF) is the most coveted smartphone brand, picked by 32% of those surveyed. Nokia (NYSE:NOK) was second at 22%, and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) came in third at 21%. BlackBerry was in fourth place at 10%.

However, almost a third of those surveyed said that price was a key factor in their purchase decision, and they would bypass their top pick for a lower-priced brand with similar features.

The survey sampled consumers in Brazil, India, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia.

Don't Joke About Facebook in China

Facebook and Twitter had not made much headway among Internet users in China when the country's censors exiled both sites to the far side of China's Great Firewall a couple of years ago.

Now Internet users in China really want to know what all the fuss is about, so many were not amused when a Chinese blogger with 35 million followers told them both sites were suddenly available in China.

It was an April Fools' Day joke.

Kai-fu Lee, former chief of Google China who blogs from independent Taiwan, has gotten 10,000 comments so far about his little gag.

Disclosure: Minyanville Studios, a division of Minyanville Media, has a business relationship with BlackBerry.
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