The recent 136 crore penalty imposed on Google for showing discriminatory search operational tendencies was hardly a sufficient lesson for the tech-giant and the issue is also concerned with power and control equations. It would be appropriate to say that if India does not put a bridle on the influence of international technology companies, it will have to be an unwilling victim of corporate colonialism.
Because of their massive influence, it is really easy for companies such as Facebook, Google, Twitter or Amazon to monitor the online activities of all Indian citizens practically and affect their socio-political preferences-while they simultaneously squish other competitive ventures. The reason behind this is simple- a winner-take-all system begeted by technology that is focused only on seizing more and more information. India needs to keep these things in mind.
How many of us are aware that through our smartphones and their applications, Apple, Google or WhatsApp are able to keep a track of our likes, dislikes, movements, and habits? Who we speak to and what we say is known to them as well. Our private texts and emails can be read. Our web searches or YouTube surfing inform them of our innermost ideas, thoughts, and preferences. When our pictures are posted on Facebook, our faces and our friends’ are recognized; our information along with our location is enough for them to learn who we know and where we were. Not very amusing, is It?
As the popular saying in the tech industry goes, data is the new oil. These companies take control over all the data to sell ads to us and eventually make their billions. According to The Economic Times, the problem, as seen with the reported Russian hacking incident in the US elections, is that there is a noticeable lack of ethics and scruples. They will not stop a person or government from propagating misinformation to anyone who fits certainly specified criteria.
India needs to work on developing a legislation system even more rigorous than Europe’s Data Protection Regulation. Not only does the export of data need to be prevented, it has to be ensured as well that all data, on all Indians, are under their complete scrutiny and ownership and utilised only with their knowledge and explicit permission.
The second issue of utmost importance is technology monopolies. These are openly glorified and romanticized by Silicon Valley moguls, and they endorse their ability to earn unfair competitive advantages by piling capital. Their huge war chests are used to steal or copy from potential competitors. When all else fails, they don’t hesitate to acquire them. They recommend free markets only when they want or need other countries to open their doors to them. Investors take pride in being a part of an economy in which money functions as the penultimate weapon.
In recent years, a company that has shown such aggressiveness is Amazon. Once It dominated bookstores, publishing and distribution circles. Then it expanded into cleaning supplies, assorted home goods, and electronics. Now it has successfully ventured into the market of all forms of retail — along with electronic gadgetry, cloud services, small-business lending and more. It has been working on developing delivery services that have features similar to United Parcel Service or FedEx.
For more than two decades or so, Amazon has been facing a loss of money or earning razor-thin margins. But investors have always blessed it with a high stock price because it has managed to gain market share and at the same time butcher competition. With that, it was able to raise money at below-market interest rates and utilize it to take up its market share. But again, this is not really the way free markets should act.
The same strategy has been used by Uber to raise billions of dollars to end the businesses of potential competitors across the globe. It has had a successful run in the Indian market after dumping gigantic amounts of capital to put local companies out of business.
Here, India needs to take a lesson or two from China, which made sure to use every trick in its sleeves to close its markets off and create necessary boundaries for foreign companies. In doing so, the country let local technology companies increase in power and size and learn to innovate. Very smartly, China opened its doors at first to Silicon Valley companies and let them bring their ideas into train and prepare its own entrepreneurs. Then it hastily locked them out so that internal startups could thrive. It took no time for China to realize that Silicon Valley had such a monetary precedence that local entrepreneurs could never thrive against such fierce competition.
After losing its grip on the Chinese market, India became more like a consolation prize to these tech companies. The Indian market is blossoming, so their timing could not be more perfect. The country is about to go through a technological transformation next in size only to China with the prices of smartphones and internet access aiming towards becoming affordable for everyone. You don’t really need groundbreaking foresight to estimate the huge fortunes to be made in a market like India.
India should never admit defeat in this battle against the modern-day East India companies. It definitely has the talent to construct its own infrastructure and to jump ahead. There are millions of engineers well-trained in the development of IT systems for the West, thus providing a huge advantage. India has the potential to create world-changing technology that will be strong enough to challenge Silicon Valley itself, as well as China. But this will not happen if the foreign tech giants are permitted to continue slaughtering India’s young startups and malnourishing the emerging giants. India needs to make this choice very soon- whether to take a leap on its own or let parasites suck it dry.