Govt concerned about Big Tech monopoly on the internet, says Rajeev Chandrasekhar

'We want the internet to be open'


The government is concerned about a Big Tech monopoly on the internet and the upcoming Digital India Act (DIA) will have provisions for tackling this. This is what Union Electronics & IT Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar said in his keynote speech at the Digital News Publishers Association Conclave (DNPA) in New Delhi on Tuesday.

“We want the internet to be open. We don’t want it under the monopoly of two or three companies,” the minister said, adding, “That asymmetry needs to be legislated; very least regulated.”

DIA, originally scheduled to be tabled in Parliament in the ongoing Budget session, will now see the light of day only after the general elections in summer and a new government takes over. Further, “extensive” consultations are also likely to take place before a final draft of the legislation is made.

On the main concern of the Digital News Publishers, of how news content is being used by companies like Alphabet (Google) and Meta (Facebook) without barely any revenue sharing, the minister called it “abuse of market power”, though he didn’t specifically say if governmental legislation could be the way forward.

Even while vehemently criticising social media platforms and search engines and them giving short shrift to content creators (which also include news publishers), the minister was of the opinion that it was something to be taken up through the Competition Commission of India (CCI) or mutually.

Of course, he did leave the door open for the government to intervene to “stop abuse of power”, though he made it clear that “nothing will be done without extensive public consultation.”

Chandrasekhar also flagged the danger of fake news and misinformation, and how it could get a fillip through artificial intelligence (AI) and deepfakes. “Whether you are Big Tech or a startup, what you give your consumer should be legally accountable. You cannot allow users to trespass into criminality….There is nothing subjective about false information.”

In fact, the minister said it was not just a matter of mischief — with 120 crore Indians set to go online by next year, tech development has reached such a stage that an enemy of India tomorrow need not wage a physical war, they can use digital tools like deepfakes and misinformation to seed chaos.

“We are surrounded by people who want to slow down India’s progress, they use misinformation as a tool to attack India’s soft underbelly…Understand (that) this is a real challenge,” he said in his keynote address.

Earlier, welcoming the minister, Manorama Online CEO Mariam Mammen Mathew said the digital news publishers were looking to the government for framing policies to ensure misinformation is dealt with. The DNPA Conclave was attended by news media leaders and industry experts from across the country and abroad.

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