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Asia Pacific Dashboard Digest | Notes from the Asia-Pacific region, 4 Nov. 2022 Related reading: Notes from the Asia-Pacific region, 19 April 2024

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Hello from India!

As New Delhi and its surrounding regions grapple with their annual weather nosedive, where the air pollution levels shoot up to dangerous levels, the powers that be in the capital have been firing their own salvos as they grapple with the onerous task of managing the various not-so-great repercussions of a galloping Digital India.

The "highlight" of this past month has been the huge fines levied on Google — 13.38 billion rupees (about $162 million) followed by another 9.36 billion rupees (about $113 million) a few days later — by the Competition Commission of India. With indications that there is more to come.

While these sums may pale in comparison to similar fines imposed in other geographies (like the $5 billion fine in the EU in 2018), this is the first time that India has seen such quantum for Big Tech. Naturally, there has been a huge buzz around this.

So why did the CCI impose these fines?

The first was in the context of Google’s Android Ecosystem, with the charge that the company has been abusing its position. The investigation was taken up in 2019 based on a complaint filed by three Android consumers. Along with the fine, the CCI imposed certain changes that Google needs to make. These include not forcing original equipment manufacturers to preinstall Google apps on Android devices, allowing for third-party app stores, allowing users to choose their default search engine, allowing users to remove preinstalled apps, etc.

The second was regarding the Google Play store and its restrictive practices. Here also, in addition to the fine, the CCI gave Google three months to implement certain changes like allowing app developers to use third-party billing systems (and not be forced to use Google’s own system with a commission of 10-30%), allowing developers to freely direct their users to external sites having alternate payment options, implementing a clear and transparent policy on the data that is collected and used by the platform and sharing this data with app developers, etc.

As a result, Google has already announced its change of policy about using third-party billing systems, but with a caveat: App developers from India can use third-party billing systems only for end users located in India. For users outside India, the earlier policy still applies.

Meanwhile, on the legislative side, we saw the IT Rules under the Indian Information Technology Act being modified, largely focused on content moderation by entities labeled as "intermediaries." The definition of intermediaries includes not only social media giants but also other entities that deal with content, bringing under its scope entities in financial technology, e-commerce, artificial, and so on as well.

The rules add obligations onto intermediaries to regulate content on their platforms, including any "misinformation" — a word specifically called out in the rules. The rules have also introduced the concept of "Grievance Appellate Committees" — which would be set up by the government. An end user can take their grievance to a GAC with respect to any grievance that an intermediary has not appropriately addressed. A GAC is expected to turn things around faster than a regular court, given the sheer volumes of grievances that are there.

Interestingly, the rules encourage intermediaries to publish their privacy notice in multiple Indian languages. Just so readers know, there are 22 Indian languages recognized by the Indian Constitution!

All in all, an interesting month for the world of data and tech in India from a regulatory perspective.


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