India needs tougher laws to rein in Big Tech

Written By: Gravitas desk WION Web Team
New Delhi Published: Jan 22, 2021, 11.17 PM(IST)

Weak passwords lead to a breach in cybersecurity Photograph:( WION )

Story highlights

India is home to the world's largest digital literacy programme. But in India- tech companies have a free run

India is the world's second-biggest online market. 743 million Indians use the internet. That's twice the size of US market. The number is unmatched by any country except the neighbour provoking in Ladakh.

India's market potential is no secret. When internet exploded in the country in the first half of the century Silicon Valley CEOs rushed to India to profit from the market.

Today, at least 241 million Indians use Facebook. The company's revenue grew 43% in FY 20'. Google's profit increased 24% in FY 20'

India is home to the world's largest digital literacy programme. But in India, tech companies have a free run. There is no awareness or concern about the threat posed by big tech.

India is doing nothing to regulate them. To check their anti-trust approaches, their anti-competitive behaviour, or to break their monopoly. In December 2019, India finally introduced the data protection bill. One year on, it is gathering dust. Even if it is passed, it may not be able to address real problems.

For example, the bill says- the person to whom a data relates should be given the right to control it. In other words, the data can only be processed with the consent of its owner. This is a fair point. But in India, we give away consent for our data in return of discounts and free apps.

India needs laws that can identify loopholes and plug them. India needs laws that can be applied and enforced. Laws- that have provisions for exemplary punishment.

In 2018, India's Competition Commission probed Google, for abusing its dominance online. The complaint was filed by Consim Info, the parent company of a matrimonial site.

Google was found guilty. It was fined 136 crore rupees.

Google appealed. And by all accounts that WION have been able to access, Google hasn't paid the fine, nor has it fixed its ways. It is still playing unfair.

India's competition commission has also not been able to do much to check the monopoly of Big Tech.

Silicon valley companies have abused India's regulatory gaps. They have built a wall of opacity and untouchability around them. There is no clarity on any of their policies.

In another example, Twitter India had temporarily blocked the account of India's Home Minister Amit Shah in November 2020.

India's Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology recently quizzed Twitter about it. The tech giant reportedly said the minister's account had to be blocked because of a copyright issue with a picture.

Earlier it had said that there was 'inadvertent error' under its copyright policies. By the end of the grilling session, India's lawmakers agreed- that the country's existing laws need to be updated. India needs laws that are proactive, not reactive.

India's Central Bureau of Investigation has booked Cambridge Analytica and Global Science Research Limited. For illegally harvesting data of Indian users. The data theft was authorised by Facebook.

Nearly 6 lakh Indian Facebook users are expected to have been hit.

All this could have been avoided if India had the necessary frameworks in place.

WhatsApp spoke of privacy policy for Indian users some days ago. Why didn't Whatsapp's parent company Facebook did not dare think of such a policy for Europe? The answer is Europe's tough law-- the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) India doesn't have anything like it

Another reason why India needs tougher laws is illiteracy. The fake news and hate speeches that cannot be spread in letters, are being circulated through videos. Mediums like WhatsApp have penetrated every layer of Indian society. They have become a threat.

India should come up with tough laws to prevent corporate abuse of power. To prevent bundling of products. To ensure 'Made in India' companies are not booted out of the market or acquired by the big 4

The pandemic has forced more companies and consumers to go online. The worldwide web is not the future anymore. It is the present. India needs to keep up with this digital reality.

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