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Strong laws can only protect domestic tech firms, startups: ADIF

Although it is commendable that Indian regulators have taken cognisance of the anti-trust challenges and monopolisation tendencies of Google and other large global tech companies, it becomes pertinent for the government to proactively enact laws for the benefit of our ecosystem and our startups, Sijo Kuruvilla George, Executive Director of the Alliance of Digital India Foundation (ADIF), said on Monday.

Given the scale of its operations and the significant impact on markets and society, the need to understand and reign in the anti-competitive practices of such tech giants is dawning as a necessity globally for the growth and well-being of economies, George told IANS.

“The presence and dominance of tech giants in multiple key markets is tied to the health of the digital and internet economy (e-commerce, social networking, communication search, advertising, browser, smartphone and smartphone OS, app economy, payments etc),” he said.

ADIF currently represents nearly 400 homegrown digital startups with Paytm, BharatMatromony, Innov8 and others as founding members.

According to George, it becomes pertinent for the Indian government, and its key regulatory institutions involved — the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeiTY), the Competition Commission of India (CCI) and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) — to take note and proactively enact legislative actions for the benefit of our ecosystem and our startups.

“What is required is not penalties for wrongdoing but proactive enabling legislation. Even when the fines imposed are high and run into a few billions, for the behemoths in perspective, the amounts are tantamount to a light rap on the knuckles,” he emphasised.

A final indictment verdict, if at all, comes after a couple of years. Even when it does, the fines aren’t substantial enough to make any real dent in business fortunes.

“The need of the hour is fair market practices. In the long run, it is not ex post facto fines but proactive and progressive legislative efforts that will nurture and nourish a healthy, innovative and competitive ecosystem,” he noted.

The CCI launched a probe two years ago into Google’s alleged abuse of the Android Operating System (OS). Recently, the CCI’s Director General established that Google had indulged in unfair business practices by insisting on the Android OS.

Google went to the Delhi High Court against the leak of the CCI’s confidential report pertaining to the investigation against the global search engine giant. The anti-trust regulator, however, denied leaking confidential reports to the media.

Taking note of the CCI’s submissions, the high court said nothing survives in the petition filed by Google against the alleged leak of confidential probe information and disposed of the plea.

According to George, the need of the hour is effective data protection laws.

The volume of data being generated now – even from personal devices – is enormous, and slated to increase multifold with the proliferation of connected devices even in our households.

“Monopolisation of data also needs to be considered as a possibility and concern. The situation is no different from the days of the industrial revolution where standardisation and interoperability standards emerged as the global consensus for the way forward,” he said.

The ADIF is exploring initiating legal interventions as well on behalf of the industry stakeholders.

“The primary approach though will be that of dialogue and consensus building. It is also important that matters of significance are represented formally so that the government, once convinced of the need, may also be able to act on it,” George added. IANS

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