India Is Cracking Down on Ecommerce and Free Speech

WIRED | 2/14/2019 | Paris Martineau
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When it comes to cracking down on tech giants, India is on a roll. The country was the first to reject Facebook’s contentious plan to offer free internet access to parts of the developing world in 2016. Since December, Indian policymakers have taken a page from China’s playbook, enacting sweeping restrictions in an attempt to curtail the power of ecommerce behemoths like Amazon, and pushing proposals that would require internet companies to censor “unlawful” content, break user encryption, and forbid Indian data from being stored on foreign soil. In the past week alone, Indian officials have demanded Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey come before Parliament to answer to accusations of bias, called for a ban on TikTok, and opened an investigation into claims that Google abused its Android mobile operating system to unfairly promote its own services.

For all its good intentions, India’s tech backlash could backfire, with potentially dire consequences for all tech companies—big and small—operating in India, and free speech online for users around the globe. “There is an element of nationalism which is creeping into tech policy in India,” said Apar Gupta, executive director Internet Freedom Foundation, a digital-rights group. Gupta says this has resulted in a number of India-First-style tech policies being rushed through the government using the much quicker executive notification process rather than seeking parliamentary approval, which could have resulted in laws that would be more comprehensive and enforceable.

Regulation - Giants - Policies - Strategy - Deployment

Calling for the regulation of tech giants is easy, but actually developing reasonable, scalable policies with a feasible strategy for deployment is more difficult. In the case of India, Gupta added, “it wants to do a lot, but it all seems a bit clumsy.”

Thursday marks the end of the counter-comment period for new proposed rules that could have a chilling effect on free expression and privacy online. The...
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