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  • Raghav Sand

India and Big Tech Companies: Watch, Wait and Don’t Act

Governments and antitrust agencies across the world are scrutinising and penalising technology companies. India is an exception to this norm. In an ideal world, government is accountable to its citizens. Economic and reputational compulsions compel those charged with governance either to overlook flaws or impose token penalties.

Lately, significant developments in tech regulation have been witnessed in Australia, United States, Great Britain and European Union. Indian government usually waits for developed democracies to bite the bullet when it comes to regulation. Facebook had to agree to pay for news in Australia, and Uber was asked by Great Britain to classify drivers as employees instead of contractors. Ideally, these tech giants (Yes, Uber is practically is a tech company) should voluntarily implement the rules across their global operations. Though, real life is far from ideal. Individual nations will have to impose similar regulations on Facebook, Google and Uber.

Recently, the Indian government announced measures to curb the explicit content on over-the-top media (OTT) and bring parity between offline and online news portals with respect to editorial content. It also laid out rules for curbing hate speech and fake news on social media networks.

People from all sections and philosophies have been urging the government to define certain basic parameters for internet media companies. But, are these the only issues that ail the sector? The Indian government is being selective and narrow-minded in imposing rules; real issues are being continually brushed under the carpet.

Indian Lawmakers at the Crossroads

In the past three decades all the central and state governments have made an effort to attract foreign direct investment (FDI), especially in the field of information and technology. By not asking the tech giants some uneasy questions, the Indian government is trying to improve its ease of doing business rankings. Any move that may upset foreign investors is shelved for a later, more convenient date. In the age of tech capitalism, rampant underemployment and unemployment further ties the government’s hand.

Money is agile and restless. Corporates are always lobbying and hunting for lesser regulations. The apprehension of being perceived as a red tape state eventually leads to inaction on the part of the government. A cohesive and collaborative approach by nations, especially democracies, should create a common set of rules to make the world truly flat. These regulations should be imposed uniformly throughout the world. Any concessions, whatsoever, will defeat the true purpose of law.

Global companies have mastered the art and science of flexing their muscles to dilute country-specific laws. They tend to have multiple standards depending on jurisdiction. Almost all companies have separate governance standards for Asian countries and another set of rules for same products and services in the European Union. This is a clear violation of human rights and the against pledge for equity and equality.

The Indian government should now ask for an explanation from the representatives of global tech companies, about the double standards being followed by them. The sharing economy, alongside e-commerce have made the most of opaque rules and have also knowingly overlooked basic responsibilities. Pension, gratuity, medical benefits and leave pay are the rights of those men and women who enable the last mile connectivity for internet-enabled goods and services.

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