There have been recent reports of tech giants like Yahoo and Cisco showing their interest in the UID project and trying to woo the Indian government and especially Mr. Nilekani, and trying to convince that they be given the contracts based on their relevant expertise and experience.
“The UID project involves a huge database. We, at Yahoo, have expertise in handling such huge amount of data. We met the Prime Minister today and discussed, among other things, how Yahoo can help the Government in the project,” Ms Bartz said here at an editorial round table with the media. However, Yahoo also said that it was not looking at the UID project for any commercial interest but to pay back to the nation where it has had a presence for so many years.
Google too, though not falling head over heels for the UID project, has evinced interest and put forth their claims for why they believe they will make a good suitor.
Talking about the expertise Google can bring to the table, Rao said, “At Google, we are good at software development, hosting data and language technologies. We run our product on more than eight regional languages in India. “If the project has a mobile dimension then also we can help. At Google, we have developed voice-based search capabilities,” Rao added.
Earlier, Microsoft had shown interest in the same project and Indian companies like TCS, Wipro and Infosys are in the run from the moment the project was announced.
So why are the tech giants falling all over themselves to get the UID project? Is it due to social service (Yahoo), a fit with expertise (Google?) or do they have some ulterior motives (think Microsoft!).
First, for the uninitiated, UID is the Unique Identification project of Indian Government, that would assign a 16 digit UID to every individual in the target group and also issue smart cards that may have biometric data like fingerprints and iris scan associated with it.
Ganeshan Vijay Srinivas, had written a post on trak.in earlier , about the potentials and pitfalls of UID and Arun has also written a post explaining whyÂ the thinking that biometric smart cards will become ubiquitous in India in the near future is both simplistic and naive. I, myself, believe that UID has an important role to play in voting reforms and this can be easily done by combining the PDS/ration cards and election voter card under the same rubric.
So now that we have got some context on how important the UID project is, let us return to the central question as to why are the tech giants interested in a slice of the UID pie? Going back over the Yahoo and Google statements both stress their ability to handle large databases and host large data. Is interest in UID project a means to get a backdoor entry into some of the most sensitive and private data?
Given the fact that today ‘data is king’ and that Google and Yahoo both make tons of money from their access to private and proprietary data consisting of individuals and their online habits, can not UID be a pretext to get still more private data to improve their algorithms, their ad servings?
Granted that the government will try not to expose the private data to whoever is given the DB creation, updating and maintenance for the UID and that perhaps Google/Yahoo will only be involved in the development and not in actual usage of the DB; still they may be given access to parts of the data for testing/debugging/maintenance.Â Even getting hands on part of the data will give them an unfair advantage and may potentially compromise national security.
I am concerned, because even Google, of ‘do no evil’ fame, has been accused of ulterior motives nowadays and respected web-pundits are worried that their tussle with NewsCorp/Apple may precipitate a war for the web and that Google too is not playing for the web, but is partisan.Â The days when people thought Google had their best interests in mind, have sadly come to a pass. Given the ambition of Google to own worlds data (organise worlds data), these to me seem legitimate concerns.
Perhaps it would be better, if the UID project is given to an Indian company, even if the decision compromises on technological ability- in any of the foreign giants’ hands the easy access to sensitive data may lead to an unfair advantage at best and compromise national security at worst!
Maybe I am being myopic and maybe the Tech giants are interested in UID project for the moolah involved or even to give back to the country, as yahoo claims. Maybe I should stop watching too many conspiracy movies! Do let us know via comments, what you think are the reasons why the tech giants are so keen for the UID project and whether there is a cause for concern?
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