/ETtech Evening Briefing on Feb 25, 2021: Govt plans to tighten online rules, experts worry

ETtech Evening Briefing on Feb 25, 2021: Govt plans to tighten online rules, experts worry

Good evening,

It’s been a big news day here at ETtech. This morning, the government announced its plan to enact stricter rules for social media platforms, online news portals and streaming services. The government claims these rules will benefit users but experts say they would violate people’s privacy and lay the platform for a surveillance state. They said parts of it would require platforms such as WhatsApp and Signal to break their end-to-end encryption, which they are unlikely to do.

Govt plans stricter rules for social media, online news, streaming services

Earlier today the government unveiled its plan to tighten regulations for social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, news portals and streaming platforms under the Information Technology Act.

Social media platforms: The proposed Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 would make it mandatory for social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to, among other things, take down flagged posts with 36 hours of receiving a notice.

That’s not all: The proposed rules would also require messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and Signal to trace the ‘originator’ of any message deemed problematic.

If the originator is found to be outside the country, the first person to have shared the content within India will be considered the “first originator” of such content, the draft rules said.

Surveillance state? The government’s aim here is to be able to track down people who use encrypted platforms such as WhatsApp or Signal to spread fake news or carry out illegal activities. But experts said this would require such companies to break their end-to-end encryption — something they are unlikely to do — and pave the way for a surveillance state.

Online news: The proposed rules also widened the government’s definition of digital media to include online news. News portals will now come under government oversight and will be expected to follow the same norms as traditional media publishers, such as newspapers and news channels. This means that such content, if found violating any law, could be taken down and criminal proceedings be initiated against the publisher.

Streaming services: The rules would also apply to video streaming services – otherwise known as the over-the-top (OTT) services — such as Disney+Hotstar, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

It’s been brewing: While the new rules have been in the works since 2018, the announcement comes days after the government conveyed a “deep sense of disappointment” with Twitter after the platform chose not to take down certain tweets and accounts despite an order from the government. Twitter said it did not take down the accounts as that would violate its users’ freedom of expression.

The new rules for news portals come at a time when India’s global ranking on the press freedom index has been falling. The move has drawn criticism from experts, who question the need for such an intervention.

Three-tier system: To ensure adherence to the rules, the government has proposed a three-tier structure to address users’ grievances.

Level 1: Self-regulation by the companies, who must appoint a grievance redressal officer based in India to take a decision on every complaint.

Level 2: A self-regulatory body headed by a retired high court or Supreme Court judge. The judge will be appointed from a panel formed by the ministry, which will include up to six other members — experts in media, broadcasting, technology and entertainment.

Level 3: A government committee established by the I&B ministry will hear grievances arising out of the self-regulating body’s decisions and take appropriate action.

Infra.Market enters unicorn club

Infra.Market, a technology firm that provides a one-stop marketplace for construction materials, has landed $ 100 million in its Series C funding round led by Tiger Global with participation from other existing investors such as Accel Partners, Nexus Venture Partners, Evolvence India Fund, Sistema Asia Fund and Foundamental.

New unicorn: The latest fundraising values the company at $ 1 billion, making it the latest entrant to the coveted unicorn club. The four-year-old startup, which picked up Rs 50 crore from debt fund InnoVen in December, is targeting the $ 140 billion construction materials market with a strong focus on the infrastructure sector.

Meanwhile, edtech platform Doubtnut has raised Rs 224 crore in Series B funding led by SIG and Lupa Systems. Existing investors Sequoia Capital India, Omidyar Network India and Waterbridge Ventures also participated in the round.

Fuel’s errand

Online food ordering platform Zomato has hiked the salaries of its delivery executives by 7-8% to offset skyrocketing fuel prices.

Why now? Petrol prices have already hit Rs 100 a litre in some cities, with the price of diesel not far behind. Zomato said the increase in fuel prices has hiked delivery executives’ monthly spending by Rs 600 to Rs 800 on average, eating into their take-home income. The company said it has over 1.5 lakh delivery partners and is continuing to increase this number to meet the rising demand for food delivery.

You won’t have to pay more: Zomato said that it will bear the cost of the increased remuneration, and will not pass it on to its customer or restaurant partners.

Earlier this week, Zomato closed a $ 250 million funding round, led by existing investors Tiger Global, Kora and Fidelity. The fundraising valued the food delivery app at $ 5.4 billion post-money, from about $ 3.9 billion in December when it had raised $ 660 million.

We don’t favour large sellers, says Amazon’s Amit Agarwal

Amit Agarwal

Amazon India head Amit Agarwal said the Indian government’s long-term priorities of digital empowerment and inclusion are in line with the online retailer’s business priorities, adding that the company has always complied with all laws of the land.

On smaller sellers: Agarwal reiterated Amazon’s commitment to empowering small sellers on its platform, countering narratives that the company favours a few large sellers. “We can only grow if more sellers come online and bring selection, and more customers come online to buy from Amazon,” he said.

By the numbers: Amazon claims that over 4,100 sellers on its platform saw sales of over Rs 1 crore during 2020, meaning at least Rs 4,000 crore in sales came from small businesses.

  • The company’s cumulative exports from India have grown to $ 2 billion and it brought 1.5 lakh new sellers and 50,000 local shops to its platform in the past year, offsetting some of the drop in sales in the offline retail market, he added.

ET had earlier reported that three years before it debuted in India in 2013, Amazon circulated an investment proposal, code-named ‘Red’, to a few select potential local partners for a retailing venture.

Australia passes law to make tech giants pay for news

An Australian law that forces tech giants to pay for news is set to take effect after the parliament passed the final amendments to the News Media Bargaining Code agreed upon between Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.

Why it matters: Facebook, which turned off news sharing in Australia last week, plans to restore it after the government agreed to amend its legislation. The blackout led to a 13% drop in traffic to Australian news sites.

After striking the deal with the government, Facebook said it plans to invest $ 1 billion to “support the news industry” over the next three years.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Tech-Economic Times