December has been a fairly eventful month in Latin America so far, with a flurry of deals and launches being announced before the annual summer holiday slowdown. Here’s the news you don’t want to miss:

Big players making new moves

Microsoft will open an Innovation Center in Chile, PulsoSocial reported. Like existing counterparts around the world, it will consist of an incubator for early-stage IT and software-related companies. These will get access to Microsoft’s dedicated resources for entrepreneurs, including its BizSpark program.

In addition, the Redmond giant unveiled plans to launch a Windows Azure region for Brazil in early 2014, its first major expansion into South America. By doing so, it will belatedly catch up with Amazon Web Services, which added South America as a region in 2011.

It is worth noting both Amazon and Microsoft chose to base these new data centers in Brazil. This means they could be able to comply with Brazilian law should the country’s authorities decide to go ahead with a looming plan to demand local servers from global corporations. However, they might still be reluctant to accept such rules, which Web creator Tim Berners-Lee recently criticized as ill-advised during a United Nations gathering in Geneva.

Brazil is also one of the two latest countries in which Internet users will now be able to receive Twitter Alerts during emergency situations. To do so, they will need to go to their profiles on Twitter’s iOS and Android app and subscribe to alerts from participating organizations, such as Rio de Janeiro City Hall’s Operations Center (COR).

alertas do twitter December in Latin America: All the tech news you shouldn’t miss from the past month

Google has rolled out the Books section of its Google Play Store in several new countries this month, including Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela. Books can be purchased and/or read on multiple devices, such as Android phones and tablets, computers, iPhones and iPads.

Sony also expanded the list of countries in which its PlayStation 4 console is available, taking the total to 48 with the addition of Bolivia, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, among others. The device had already been launched a few weeks ago in Brazil, where it retails for a whopping R$3,999 – around $1,853 USD.

With the intent of countering the sky-high prices of imported electronics, Philips has announced that it will start manufacturing and selling tablets in Brazil this month. The production will take place in the Free Economic Zone of Manaus, Amazonas, which is also the location Microsoft chose for its made-in-Brazil XBox 360 consoles.

Launches and expansions

On December 11, both Spotify and Rdio announced they were expanding their music offering into new countries, many of which are located in Latin America. Spotify’s latest additions include Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay; as for Rdio, it now reaches Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

European female-skewing portal AuFeminin.com is venturing into Brazil by launching a Portuguese language website called TaoFeminino.com.br. Owned by Axel Springer AG, it had expanded into the US last June with the launch of WeWomen.com. According to French newspaper Le Figaro, AuFeminin’s target is to have its Brazilian platform reach 800,000 monthly unique visitors within its first year of existence.

Pioneering Bitcoin exchange platform Mt. Gox has now teamed up with payments company Astropay to make buying and selling Bitcoins in Latin America easier, TNW’s Jon Russell explained:

“The partnership means that Bitcoin fans in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay can make direct deposits to a host of local banks by connecting their Astropay and Mt. Gox accounts. Payments to supported banks are processed within one business day.”

Argentine company builder Quasar Ventures has launched its first project: e-commerce marketplace Avenida.com. It didn’t take long for the new venture to be described as an “Amazon for Argentina,” which would sound overly ambitious if it weren’t for its founders and backers.

As you may remember, Quasar Ventures is the brainchild of Andy Freire and Santiago Bilinkis, fathers of the office supply chain Officenet, of which Quasar’s CEO and third co-founder Pablo Simon Casarino was an early employee. After becoming Argentina’s leader and expanding into Brazil, Officenet was acquired in 2004 for $23.2 million by US giant Staples (it changed its name to Staples Argentina in 2011). It remains to be seen whether Avenida.com will be as successful, but it is definitely aiming high.

screenshot avenida com December in Latin America: All the tech news you shouldn’t miss from the past month

Other high-profile figures who have launched a new venture are Chile-based entrepreneurs Oskar Hjertonsson and Daniel Undurraga, who recently unveiled a photo sharing app called Seahorse. Available on Google Play and iOS, it emphasizes privacy and lets you share photo albums with selected groups of people, such as friends, family and/or colleagues.

As PulsoSocial points out, Hjertonsson and Undurraga were the founders of Needish, a daily deals platform they sold to Groupon in 2007, while simultaneously being hired to overview the US company’s operations in several Latin American countries. Their new app is backed by names such as Wences Casares and former Groupon COO and President Rob Solomon, who joined Accel Partners last April.

screenshots seahorse ios December in Latin America: All the tech news you shouldn’t miss from the past month

Social e-book publishing startup Widbook has opened offices in San Francisco. The company is originally from Brazil, where it raised seeding funding from Kekanto’s backer W7 Brazil Capital in January 2013. Since then, its collaborative writing platform has reached 130,000 users, a majority of which are located in the US, which explains its expansion strategy. In addition, Widbook released an iOS app this month to complement its presence on Google Play.

Some got acquired…

US-based mobile wallet startup Lemon has been acquired by identity theft company LifeLock to improve its presence on mobile devices. If you are wondering what this has to do with Latin America, the answer is simple: Lemon’s CEO Wences Casares is from Argentina, where part of the team has been based. According to TechCrunch, the deal was worth $42.6 million. Casares will now join LifeLock as the General Manager of Mobile, while the Buenos Aires staff is expected to remain in Argentina.

Brazilian enterprise software heavyweight TOTVS announced the purchase of a majority stake of Ciashop, a company that has been developing SaaS solutions for e-commerce since 1998. According to the company, it will pay R$ 19.4 million (around $8.15 million USD) for up to 72% of the capital, which consists of all shares previously owned by VC firm Ideiasnet, plus 18.5% of the shares owned by Ciashop’s management. While this is TOTVS’ first venture into e-commerce, the firm already made several investments over the last few months through its investment arm TOTVS Ventures.

Argentine real estate platform Properati has acquired its Brazilian competitor Imovel do Proprietario for an undisclosed amount of cash and stock. Following the deal, both sites will merge next March and Imovel do Proprietario’s CEO Renato Orfaly will join Properati as country manager for Brazil. In addition to Brazil and Argentina, Properati also plans to expand into Chile, Colombia and Mexico . According to Properati’s CEO Gabriel Gruber, the company expects to close a new round of funding early next year to finance its expansion plans.

…and some got funded

Chinese Internet firm Qihoo 360 Technology Company led a $30 million Series C round in Brazilian cloud-based online security company PSafe, the New York Times’ DealBook reported. Previous backers Redpoint Ventures, Redpoint e.ventures and Pinnacle Ventures also made follow-on investments, reportedly valuing the company at approximately $130 million USD.

The deal’s value and its origin are quite unusual, although Chinese investors seem to be testing the ground more frequently across the region. Jeff Brody, founding partner at Redpoint, which invested both in Qihoo and PSafe, commented on this point in DealBook: “For a lot of Chinese companies, the U.S. and Europe are tough. Brazil and Latin America are pretty attractive and have many parallels.”

In other news, comparison engine for insurance and financial services ComparaOnline revealed that Moneysupermarket‘s founder Simon Nixon had joined its Board of Directors and made a $3 million investment in the company. As you may recall, we listed ComparaOnline among Latin America’s startups to watch out for in 2013.

Online staffing platform Nubelo raised a $1.3 million USD round of funding led by Latin American VC firm Nazca Ventures and supported by South Ventures and Spain’s La Caixa Capital Risk and Finaves. In addition, it announced the acquisition of its Brazilian competitor Prolancer, a two-year-old company that boasted 50,000 registered professionals. As for Nubelo itself, it reports that 85,000 freelancers are actively using its platform, while its goal for 2014 is to reach 50,000 published freelance job opportunities.

Nubelo participated in the fifth generation of Start-Up Chile and was a finalist during TNW Conference’s Startup rally last August. With offices in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Spain, it now plans to launch a pilot program in the US to connect Latin American talent with American clients.

screenshot petsy December in Latin America: All the tech news you shouldn’t miss from the past month

Mexican marketplace for pet-related products Petsy has closed a “million-dollar syndicated funding round” led by Venture Partners, with participation from Capital Invent and Dila Capital. In an interview with Spanish blog Loogic, Petsy’s founders explained that they plan to use this new capital to grow their team, boost their marketing, scale their logistical operations and invest in improving their platform.

More acceleration

R/GA’s Connected Devices Accelerator announced the first batch of 10 startups that will join its hardware-focused acceleration program, which is powered by TechStars and housed on the R/GA campus in New York City. The list includes Kytelabs , the Puerto Rico-based team behind the successful BLEduino Kickstarter campaign (see our previous story).

Telefónica’s accelerator Wayra welcomed new startups in several of its Latin American “Wayra Academies,” including two in Peru (Busportal.pe and V2Contact), two in Brazil (Codifique and 00k.com.br) and four in Venezuela (Aula7, Control de Pacientes, Fitrip and Singular).

Start-UP Brasil published the list of 53 Brazilian and 8 international startups that will benefit from the next batch of its program, which it organizes in partnership with local accelerators (see our previous post). As we reported last month, applications for this second edition were down 22%. However, it is still time for Start-UP Brasil to come back in fashion in 2014 thanks to a refreshed list of partnering accelerators and two new calls for applications.

As for Start-Up Chile, it unveiled the list of startups that will form its ninth batch, also known as “Gen 9th.” The teams are due to join the program in February and March 2014, and most will have to move to Chile to do so; while Chilean startups now account for 19 percent of selected companies, the remainder comes from 27 countries “as diverse as Bosnia Herzegovina, Ukraine, and Ghana.”

Argentine accelerator NXTP Labs held its fifth Demo Day in Buenos Aires earlier this month, and took the opportunity to celebration the milestone of reaching 100 startups in its portfolio. Several of these have already had exits, the latest being WeHostels, which was acquired by StudentUniverse last month.

A few of NXTP Labs alumni are also part of the batch of the companies that will join Miami-based accelerator Venture Hive next January. The complete list reads as follows: Aprefis (Romania); Chance (India); MiCarga (Colombia); MobileStore Operations / mSO (Spain); Pick-eat (Argentina); Predictvia (Venezuela); above-mentioned Properati (Argentina); The Fan Machine (Argentina; see our 2011 story); Waleteros (USA); Zazom (USA).

In the eye of the law

Link shortening service Bitly took to its blog to officially complain about being blocked in Venezuela. According to the company, it has noticed a consistent drop in traffic from Venezuela since November 18, as illustrated by the graph below:

screenshot bitly traffic from venezuela December in Latin America: All the tech news you shouldn’t miss from the past month

As tech blog FayerWayer also noted, Bitly’s troubles are part of a larger crackdown led by the Venezuelan authorities against online information regarding the country’s currency situation. More specifically, it is trying to censor those who report black market dollar rates.

By doing so, the country is depriving its population from access to information, Bitly’s Mark Josephson emphasized:

“What’s going on in Venezuela is important. It’s important to the citizens of Venezuela who want to understand the health of their country. It’s important for the rest of us, who might take our access to information for granted.”

Back in Mexico, “the country’s telecommunications regulatory body IFT has begun notifying companies that could be declared dominant in their sectors and face specific regulatory actions to curb their market power,” the Wall Street Journal explains. Televisa and Carlos Slim-owned company America Movil confirmed that they had both received notifications from the IFT.

According to the WSJ, “the IFT has until March 9 to determine which players are dominant and apply measures to guarantee competitive conditions.” As we reported in 2012, Mexico’s federal antitrust commission (CFC) had previously declared America Movil’s mobile subsidiary Telcel the dominant mobile player, opening the door to specific regulation.

Telefónica is going through similar problems in Brazil, where it remains to be decided whether it can retain its interest in TIM, the local mobile subsidiary of Telecom Italia, in addition to its ownership of competing operator Vivo. According to Reuters, Brazil’s antitrust watchdog CADE gave the Spanish company 18 months to “loosen its grip on the Brazilian mobile phone market.”

On a final note, Kaspersky Lab experts Dmitry Bestuzhev and Santiago Pontiroli warn a fake holiday-themed e-card in Portuguese led them to new malware out of Brazil, which means you may want to think twice before clicking on similarly suspicious links. Be safe and have a merry Christmas!

Also on TNW:

BlackBerry enlists Foxconn to build new smartphones for emerging markets, as revenue plummets in Q3

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