What subsequent within the tussle between authorities and social media corporations?
The outcome of the battle between major high-tech giants and the Indian government is eagerly awaited
There have been three cases of between social and digital media majors and the government have emerged.
On May 26, 2021, caused a letter from the IT ministry to social media platforms asking if they had formed complaints committees and appointed complaints officers under the new rules that came into effect from that day, reportedly at the Company widespread concern. Sources informed The federal government had the expectation that the government would invite them again for talks and that a compromise would be reached halfway. Instead, the government seemed to be enforcing the rules.
The reactions from companies have been mixed. Facebook announced that it would comply with the new rules. Twitter, which is usually defiant in such cases where governments twist their guns when it refuses to share user information with the US government’s PRISM monitoring program or to comply with the Hong Kong Chinese government’s restrictions, remains silent. YouTube and Instagram, which are owned by Facebook, also hold mom.
Companies are in a dilemma. India is a huge market for social media users and therefore a lucrative arena for business promotion. According to the government, India has 53 Crore WhatsApp users, 44.8 Crore YouTube users, 41 Crore Facebook subscribers, 21 Crore Instagram customers and 1.75 Crore account holders on the Twitter microblogging platform. Koo also has almost 60 lakh users. Therefore, there is a lot of money here that companies would not like to lose if they were to show a strict “principled” defiance, even though the burden of the new IT rules is burdensome. They appear to be on hold to see if the Modi government makes a partial rise in the face of media opposition and some litigation cases.
Also read: The Centre’s new rules for digital content are vague and contain draconian clauses
Individuals who own smaller companies / apps like Dhanya Rajendran, chairman of Digipub and editor-in-chief of The News Minute (TNM), the founding editor of The Wire, MK Venu, and even an organization, the Foundation of Independent Journalism, have filed cases in The Delhi Supreme Court argues that these rules are illegal and unconstitutional.
The government cannot afford to act tough amid a weak economic recovery. Much of the e-commerce business is also done through social media. Going hard would damage the economy. Where this unusual confrontation between tech majors and the government will lead is unpredictable. One can only hope that the government will not take precipitation measures that destabilize large chunks of e-commerce when new lockdowns take place.
A partial climb
After some talks with the government, Facebook said it would not enforce policy in India until India passes a new IT law. Will this end the problem?
Maybe not because other social media sites like Twitter and Instagram are still “commercializing” users’ personal data, as are other smaller apps. There is still no law preventing social media websites from commercializing users’ personal information. Facebook itself does this, although the controversy has only surfaced around WhatsApp. Here the distinction between websites like Facebook and its apps like WhasApp is important. Any number of apps that can be used to commercialize users’ personal data can be launched on social media websites. Note: We are using the word “commercialize”, not “sell”. If they sell the personal data directly, they may still be sued in a court by the users themselves and may face legal punishment.
Typically, these websites cause the companies that need such personal information for marketing purposes to place some advertisements on their websites. In return for a commercial transaction, the sites will give them the user details of who people in what age groups / other social categories viewed the ad by clicking on the relevant ad tab. This is a perfectly legal business transaction and is even a commitment from the website on which the ad is being displayed. The data is then used by the company concerned to make appropriate marketing decisions based on data analysis.
Also read: OTT platforms prevent the I&B ministry and introduce strict self-regulatory codes
What has piqued political curiosity is that the normally pro-business Modi government has, in exceptional cases, set its foot down and triumphed in Facebook’s case. Does it indicate the emergence of a strong constituency of “digital nationalism” in India?
Big tech lobbying
The NITI Aayog published a discussion paper on the political approach to artificial intelligence (AI) in India. On May 24, 2021, Google submitted an official response to this discussion paper and made it publicly available. As one of the global monopolies with advanced artificial technology and the development of many apps based on it in competition with Microsoft, Amazon and Apple, Google is heavily involved in any regulatory policy that a government tries to pass in a large market like India.
Although Google does not openly criticize Niti Aayog’s AI paper, it is clear that it opposes strict regulation and argues against a unified regulatory framework and suggests different regulatory guidelines and mechanisms for different apps from different companies. It is looking for relaxation for some of its AI-based apps like Contana, ELSA, Hound etc.
In fact, the original Niti Aayog paper was either vague or silent even in many areas of AI-based digital services. AI is a double-edged sword and there are many risks associated with it. The internet is replete with studies of the risks of using AI in healthcare, planning and delivering benefits, and even making investment and marketing decisions using AI-based data analytics.
Not only does the Niti Aayog paper fail to provide information on ensuring free access to AI-based services for internet users in India, it also does not suggest any foolproof regulations for the monopoly dimension. Globally, the AI-based digital services industry is dominated by half a dozen monopoly biggies like Amazon and Google. If some large agribusiness companies are using AI-based smart farming technologies that are against the interests of farmers, any official policy should ensure adequate legal / political safeguards against it.
The outcome of this battle between major high-tech giants and the Indian government is eagerly awaited. True, communal and casteistic messages and provocations against ethnic groups on social media lead to flare-ups. But draconian rule in the hands of the government can blackmail them at any time and make them Godi Media forever. Vinay Srinivasa, a well-known activist in Bangalore, says: “Any regulation of digital media should only be done through a law of parliament.”
Srinivas Kodali of Hyderabad, a digital media researcher at Free Software Movement, told The Federal: “The new IT rules 2021 will not only affect social media, but also digital media, news and entertainment streaming apps, digital news media and thus some of them are the old legacy media that are also present in digital media. Even if some social media companies go under, others will be challenged and the new IT rules cannot withstand a legal challenge. Any crackdown by a media company under the new rules would result in a grand showdown, and the latent media power, which currently appears to be inactive, would assert its full power. “
Hopefully he’s right because it’s about freedom of expression in India.
(The author is a senior journalist based in Allahabad).
(The federal government seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas, or opinions in the articles are from the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the federal government.)