Year 2022 ushered in a new era in promoting a fair and transparent Internet ecosystem in the country
In the previous year, Big Tech companies like Alphabet, Meta and Amazon have come under severe scrutiny from governments & regulators all over the world for their alleged abusive dominant practices. Few prominent litigations have led to regulators declaring penalties against these BigTechs, especially in Europe and in India. The year 2022 has been an active year from the Indian perspective too in BigTech regulation, as there have been proposed/amendments to existing laws and rules, such as MeitY coming up with the new draft of Data Protection Bill and proposed Digital India Act and the Digital Competition Act recommended by the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Finance. These steps can be seen as an effort on promoting a fair and transparent Internet ecosystem in the country.
Google, Meta & Amazon
The Competition Commission of India (CCI) fined Google Rs 1,337 crore in October last year for abusing its market dominance in mobile operating systems. In its verdict, CCI shared that it was anti-competitive that device manufacturers are required to pre-install the Google Mobile Suite mandatorily, with no provision to uninstall them. In another case, CCI issued a Rs 936 crore fine against Google for its anti-competitive acts with reference to its Play Store billing policy, mandating the app developers to use Google billing system.
While the CCI imposed hefty fines on Google; Meta was investigated for their content moderation, and issues concerning privacy practices. Amazon India was also being investigated by CCI, owing to several offline sellers alleging Amazon monopolizing the market and engaging in anti-trust activities.
The Ministry of Electronics and Technology (Meity) warned Twitter's top compliance officer in June 2022 and asked to comply by serving a letter setting out serious implications of non-compliance, including, but not limited to, criminal actions against the officer. The government letter also cautioned Twitter that failure to comply might result in the loss of its so-called safe harbour status, which exempts it from liability for user-posted information.
Top executives from Big Tech companies were summoned in August 2022 before a Parliamentary Standing Committee to seek their opinion and address concerns about alleged anti-competitive behaviour. The panel discussed creating a legal framework to stop these giant's anti-competitive practises. The dominance of tech companies in the market, according to several experts, is "killing" Indian players and "precluding competition." Some of the following proposed legislations showcase a tangible effort on promoting fair and transparent Internet ecosystem in India.
Proposed Digital Competition Act
As per a report presented by the Standing Committee on Finance, India must identify the small number of leading players or market winners that can negatively influence competitive conduct in the digital ecosystem, as 'Systemically Important Digital Intermediaries (SIDls)' based on their revenues, market capitalization, and number of active business and end users. Further, the SIDIs must annually submit a report to the Commission describing in a detailed and transparent manner the measures it has implemented to comply with its mandatory obligations. The Committee shared that India needs to enhance its competition law to address the unique needs of digital markets. The Committee, therefore, recommended that the government should consider and introduce a Digital Competition Act to ensure a fair, transparent and contestable digital ecosystem.
Digital Personal Data Protection Bill
In late August, the government released a draft of the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022, which is likely to be passed during the Monsoon session of Parliament. The latest draft calls for data localization rules and tougher punishments for data breaches. It suggests a Data Protection Board to oversee compliance and fines of up to Rs 500 crore for any corporation that does not comply.
Draft Telecom Bill
In November 2022, the government released a draft of the Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022 for public consultation. This bill has been introduced with the intention of replacing 3 existing laws, namely, the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950.
The bill proposed to bring OTT (Over the top) communication services under telecom services, to allow government in fixing the accountability for these OTT service providers. These service providers use the network infrastructure of telecom service providers to offer voice/video calls and SMS services. According to the proposed regulation, these platforms need to obtain licences, much like telecom businesses.
Amendment in IT Rules, 2021
The government introduced amendments to the Information Technology (IT) rules, 2021. The new regulations require the establishment of government-appointed ‘Grievance Appellate Committees’ to address the complaints of social media users. Having an internal grievance resolution officer and designating executives to work with law enforcement is already a requirement for social media companies. These amendments impose a legal obligation on intermediaries to take reasonable efforts to prevent users from uploading harmful/unlawful content.
ADIF advocates the efforts of the government to promote fair and transparent Internet ecosystem by proposing these new legislations. The ex-ante approach will help India harbour an ecosystem which is conducive for both smaller players and startups to flourish.
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