Looks like Google & Facebook are going to have long tryst with Indian Courts & Judiciary. High Court has (yet again) issued notices to Facebook, Google and other internet firms following a PIL filed by K. N. Govindacharya.
The petition filed by him directs Google India and Facebook India to incorporate proper accounting practices and manage user privacy amongst other things. K. N. Govindacharya is a former BJP leader and currently a socialist activist of sorts.
In a first of its kind, the PIL asked Facebook to formally verify all the existing and future users of the social networking website. It also talked about not allowing children below 13 years of age access to the website’s membership.
The petition also mentioned the recovery of taxes from Google’s and Facebook’s operation in India. "Facebook gross revenue for previous year was approximately $37 billion but they are not paying due taxes on their Indian operations as per the provisions of Double Tax Avoidance Agreement (DTAA).." said K. N. Govindacharya in the PIL.
In addition to privacy, user verification and recovery of tax dues, the PIL also talked about creating a national register of people who have been involved in sexual and harmful crime. Persons in this list should be banned from joining and using social networking websites.
It went on to talking about restricting government employees from accessing social networking websites from government computers. Additionally, the petition also claimed that the data of 50 million Indian users was being used for ‘commercial gains in violation of the right to privacy’ in USA.
Without a doubt, internet giants like Facebook and Google are relatively new to the Indian economy and culture. Existing laws may or may not have provisions to manage and regulate their activities. Genuine government intervention can be seen as a safety measure against cyber crime and tax evasion by internet firms.
In certain countries like Australia & UK, there is a age limit below which children cannot signup for Facebook, however it should be noted that not a single developed, democratic and progressive country in the entire world has banned or even enforced Big Boss style governance upon social media and internet firms.
Critics are looking at these regulations as unnecessary government intervention which could clamp down on the freedom of Indian netizens. India Inc is making all attempts to emerge as a strong global economy, employer and a land of opportunities. Unnecessary regulations could spell doom for the country’s ambition to become a global business powerhouse. Twitter recently hired IIT Delhi student Sanjay Jain by offering him an annual salary package of Rs. 80 lakh. With economic penetration like this, the last thing that the government wants to do is to dissuade these major players away from doing business in India.
Noticeably there are possible positive and negative after effects of regulation on social networking websites and Internet firms. The PIL filed by K. N. Govindacharya may eventually become a stepping stone for the government to tweak existing cyber laws and other regulatory framework. Rather than attack the very fundamentals of a thriving industry, the government should look at making internet a place where
- Companies like Google and Facebook can work within regulatory framework to provide their services without bureaucratic interference
- Government can crack down on anti-social and fraudulent elements
- The rights of netizens are upheld in every possible manner including freedom to express, opine and access available content