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September 12, 2019

Indian govt may make it mandatory for Google, Facebook to sell users’ public data


September 12, 2019

NEW DELHI: The Indian government may make it mandatory for companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon to sell public, or non-personal, data that they collect to anyone in the country seeking access to it, including the government and private entities.

The Ministry of Electronics and IT is considering issuing guidelines under the Information Technology Act that will require agencies and companies to share freely available information that they collate in the course of their operations, including traffic, buying and illness patterns. A final decision will be taken only after an ‘exhaustive’ consultation process, a senior official told media.

This follows an apparent change of view by the IT ministry, which now says that companies – and not a government repository – should hold and monetise public data.

The official said one has to keep in mind that “these big tech companies certainly were the first ones to come up with the idea and do the work, so just like in critical medicines, they should have the right to charge an economic fee for sharing it.”

The new guidelines will also be aimed at ensuring competition in this space and universal access to the database generated from its citizens, the official said. At present, when a company like Google takes a user’s consent before allowing access to a service, there is no alternative offered.

“We want to correct this information asymmetry to ensure that there is healthy competition. Right now, the winner takes it all,” the official said. The ‘Seven Super’ companies – Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook (all US based) and China’s Tencent and Alibaba – account for two-thirds of the total data market by value, according to a recent report by UNCTAD on the digital economy.

Google has some 90% of the market for internet searches, Facebook accounts for two-thirds of the global social media market and is the top social media platform in more than 90% of the world’s economies. Amazon boasts an almost 40% share of the world’s online retail activity and its Amazon Web Services accounts for a similar share in cloud services, the report said.

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