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India keeps close watch as global tech giants face heat in US, Europe and Australia

Global tech giants Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon are facing the heat of regulatory scrutiny in the US, Europe and Australia which is expected to strengthen the case of Indian regulators in drawing up more stringent rules to rein in the potential abuse of market dominance by these internet behemoths.

Senior officials are of the view that the advanced western countries have a better insight into the working of these tech giants and India will definitely be drawing from their experience in dealing with the issue.

The 27-nation European Union has drafted very strict rules that provide for huge fines ranging from 6 to 10% of the annual turnover for Internet giants found breaking the new rules.

These companies are required to do much more to tackle illegal content such as hate speech and child sexual abuse material, misuse of their platforms that impinges on fundamental rights, and intentional manipulation of platforms, such as using bots to influence elections and public health, according to a Reuters report from Brussels.

The companies will be required to publish details of their online advertisers and show the parameters used by their algorithms to suggest and rank information. Independent auditors will monitor compliance, while EU countries will enforce the rules.

Australia has emerged as the first country in the world to finalise plans to make Facebook and Google pay its media outlets for news content, the move aimed at protecting independent journalism has been strongly opposed by the internet giants. But it is definitely going to have repercussions in other countries as well.

Facebook and Google are also facing court cases in the US for unfair business practices. The fact that these cases have been filed by several state governments only goes to show the serious nature of the issues involved.

India’s IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has indicated that in the proposed data protection bill for the country, the government has maintained that personal data should only be used after the consent of the individual. It bars storing and processing of personal data by entities without the explicit consent of an individual. The bill mandates the processing of critical personal data only in India.

It provides for exemptions to disclose data for "reasonable purposes" such as prevention and detection of any unlawful activity including fraud.

The tech giants have been dragging their feet when it comes to discussions on the new laws on the anvil in India. E-commerce giant Amazon, for instance, had sparked a furore by refusing to appear before a joint parliamentary committee looking into the Personal Data Protection Bill. The committee had then cracked the whip and Amazon’s India head made an appearance where he was also asked about details of the company’s revenue earned in India and taxes paid.

Representatives of Facebook, Twitter, and Google have appeared before the committee to express their views on data protection and privacy.

Investors and entrepreneurs agree that while India needs to attract more foreign investment, it also has to build a clearer regulatory system to safeguard national interest. A balance has to be struck between the need of nurturing local businesses and making India attractive to foreign investment.

"India needs to build capabilities to identify businesses that violate customer privacy, are not registered to do business in India and do not pay taxes. We need clear regulations and must take action where appropriate," says Krish Gopalakrishnan, co-founder of Infosys and chairman of apex business chamber CII's startup council.

A committee headed by him on governance of non-personal data is of the view that "allowing the possibility of data monopolies, in a large consumer market such as India, could lead to the creation of imbalances in bargaining power vis-a-vis a few companies with access to large data sets accumulated in a largely unregulated environment, on one side, and Indian citizens, Indian businesses including startups, MSMEs and even the government, on the other.".