Session with Members of Parliament: How is Big Tech transforming India’s digital economy and society? 10th December 2019, New Delhi

Big tech refers to ‘Data-driven, consumer-facing, platforms that provide market and information infrastructures for a digital society’

In December last year, in collaboration with the Centre for Policy Research, we organised a session for members of parliament on the question: How is Big Tech transforming India’s digital economy and society? We had over 20 MPs in attendance across political parties.

The session included presentations by three speakers: Urvashi Aneja, Director Tandem Research, Deepak Maheshwari Director, Government Affairs - India, ASEAN & China, Symantec, and Smitha Krishna Prasad Associate Director, Centre for Communication Governance at National Law University Delhi.

The session started with a quick introductory animation on Big Tech, followed by a presentation by Urvashi Aneja, who defined Big tech as ‘Data-driven, consumer-facing, platforms that provide market and information infrastructures for a digital society’ and went on to outline the four conceptual markers of Big Tech:

Following which she discussed four main concerns that India will be increasingly facing. Her presentation highlighted how Big tech poses a wicked problem for public policy, entailing complex trade-offs.

The presentation ended with a consideration of the various policy pathways available to India. Wicked problems can not be resolved through a single solution. Multiple policy pathways will need to be negotiated. Navigating these pathways is ultimately a question of values, not more or better evidence.

The next presentation was by Deepak Maheshwari, titled ‘Big Tech, Privacy And Cyber Security’ which he began by discussing the increasing number of security breaches that are being reported in the news. Giving the example of ‘Intrusions via Pegasus in India’ and our drop in ITU’s Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI) since 2017 a cautionary tale. Following this, he began to outline the context in which Tech policy in India exists.

The key example he gave us was the comparison of the railway ticket form online vs. the physical version that people fill out when they buy a ticket at a station.

He pointed out that there are several fields of information that people need to buy a ticket online only. Thus there is an ever-growing database of information within the government that is not required for actually acquiring a train ticket and traveling.

His final recommendations were:

  • Regulatory Toolkit
    • Risk-based; Assess the Threats but also the Proposed / Supposed Solutions
    • Comprehensive Scope, Consistency in Application
  • Consult, Iterate and Communicate
  • Measure and Monitor

The final presentation was by Smitha Krishna Prasad, who presented on Big Tech Platforms and Content Regulation. She began by outlining ‘The Global Debate: Platforms as Sources of Governance’ raising questions on transparency, accountability, political influence and contribution to public opinion (misinformation, hate speech, etc.). She then went on two explain India’s position on freedom of speech and expression as listed in Article 19(1)(a) & Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution, along with the legal framework that is currently in place in India.

Following this, she discussed the ‘Contemporary challenges to democracy and free speech in the digital age’ bring up issues such as social cohesion, online violence, censorship and finally fake news and misinformation.

Tandem’s report on Big Tech in India will be out soon. Stay tuned to this space.

Initiative

AI & Society

Authors

Chandika Gupta

Chandika Gupta is a Research Associate and Communication Manager at Tandem Research, currently working on the Sustainable Goa Initiative and managing Tandem Research's online presence. She has an M.Des in Social Design from Ambedkar University.

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