Data is not a useless commodity, it’s oil of 21st Century: Govindacharya

KN Govindacharya is one of India's few original thinkers.

India’s Parliamentary Panel summons Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to explain allegations of bias by its platform. Thinker and activist KN Govindacharya says other social media giants and the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology should also explain their actions (or inaction).

Eminent thinker KN Govindacharya has written to India’s Parliamentary panel to summon heads of US tech giants including Facebook and Google along with Twitter executives, and question them on a range of issues from tax compliance, data transfer and data localisation of Indians.

The Standing Committee of Parliament on Information Technology headed by Anurag Thakur had summoned Twitter executives over a perceived bias towards a section of Twitter accounts. The committee had fixed February 11, 2019 as the date of hearing. However, global Twitter executives did not turn up before the Indian Parliament’s Standing Committee. The committee has now fixed February 25, 2019 as the date of hearing and has summoned Jack Dosey, Chief Executive Officer of Twitter to come over and explain the allegations of willful prejudice by their platform.

Anurag Thakur, Chairman of the Standing Committee on Information Technology, Lok Sabha Secretariat

India will vote in the months of April and May to elect a new union government. Social media platforms have become a major source of news consumption for both rural and urban voters in the country. The Cambridge Analytica scandal which involved Facebook has proved that social media platforms can have a major undue influence over voter’s minds during elections. For several months there had been murmurs over Twitter’s perceived bias towards certain accounts and their tweets. Of late, these protesters had grown vocal and it was then that the Standing Committee of Indian Parliament decided to summon Twitter executives to explain the allegations.

Govindacharya has been raising the issue of data privacy and data protection of Indians. He had earlier petitioned in the Delhi High Court and had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that data about Indians should remain within the territorial limits of India and in severs located within India.

“Data is not a useless commodity but oil of the 21st century. Indian data should remain in Indian servers,” Govindacharya wrote in his letter to Modi.

Industry estimates suggest that the foreign internet companies do a data business of around Rs. 20 lakh crore ($282.5 billion) from India and yet the country gains almost nothing or a pittance in the form of taxes. Govindacharya says all the companies indulge in this mass scale transfer of Indian data abroad, and the Indian “government’s silence is rather disappointing”.

In a fresh letter addressed to Anurag Thakur, chairman of the Parliamentary panel, Govindacharya has urged the Standing Committee to summon other tech giants such as Facebook and Google along with Twitter.

“For maximising revenue, companies like Facebook and Twitter encourage fake and bogus users on their platform as is clear from their annual statements before the USA authorities. As per industry sources 30% of the users are anonymous or fake, which are the biggest source of trolling, fake news, interference in elections and many other crimes. Verification of users in India is mandated for Telecom Service Providers and KYC (know your customer) compliance is mandatory for Banking and Insurance industry. Similarly social media companies as per own rules are duty bound to verify all their users. Such verification will not only ensure a healthy cyberspace and protect the children but also ensure rules of law. If social media companies fail to verify all their users they must be held liable as per polluter pay principle,” Govindacharya wrote in his letter addressed to Anurag Thakur.

In what appears as a mockery of rules mandated by the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, Twitter India’s Grievance Officer is based in Ireland, when (s)he should have been based in India. Govindacharya has strongly urged the Parliamentary panel to also summon senior officials from the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology and question them for their failure to enforce the law.

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