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India needs to follow the China model in regulating tech industries: Vivek Wadhwa

China has passed laws that attempt to regulate the algorithms that drive these platforms and that can make execs liable for spread of misinformation

January 28, 2022 / 09:02 PM IST
Facebook and Twitter have personalisation features that create filter bubbles, which deepens divisions among people. (Photo by Thought Catalog from Pexels)

Facebook and Twitter have personalisation features that create filter bubbles, which deepens divisions among people. (Photo by Thought Catalog from Pexels)

India must follow China’s example to rein in technology companies, said Vivek Wadhwa in an interview with Moneycontrol.

“I rarely am supportive of China but its government has realised the damage these technologies are causing. They are now leading the world in (managing the crisis of polarisation),” said Wadhwa, who retired as Distinguished Fellow at Harvard Law School and Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering, and is an author and entrepreneur.

He was speaking about the way technology companies drive engagement on their platforms by polarising opinion. He believes even the rise of religious fundamentalism in India can be placed at their doorstep.

WhatsApp has come to be synonymous with misinformation and platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have personalisation features that create filter bubbles, which deepens divisions among people. The companies have been made aware of the damage they are causing but they continue to retain the features to hook users.

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“China is cutting the legs off this industry… They are trying to regulate the algorithms, they are asking for better privacy controls and are telling them that they will be made liable if their platforms are spreading misinformation. So if WeChat (Chinese app that supports messaging, payments and social-media conversations) is spreading misinformation, their exec can go to jail! India needs to wake up and do that.”

Earlier this month, China passed a law that tries to control the algorithms that are central to the functioning of these platforms. The companies can’t use algorithms in a way that violates the laws of the country such as endangering national security and have to inform users about the way the algorithms work, among other things. In August 2021, China passed a data privacy law that compels tech companies to protect their user data better. The companies now have to obtain user’s consent before mining data, have to follow guidelines when sending data out of the country, have people in charge of ensuring proper handling of data, conduct periodic audits and so on.

Also Read: China to start 3-year nationwide crackdown on money laundering

He is of the opinion that getting tough on companies such as Facebook will get results, even on GoI’s long-pending demand of “identification of the first originator of the information” on Facebook-owned WhatsApp. Facebook has been fighting this saying that it will mean breaking its end-to-end encryption that guarantees users privacy.

“Facebook (which owns WhatsApp) says the communications are encrypted and that can’t be done. But, if India says that Indian customers will be able to sue them if there is misinformation on their platforms, then suddenly Facebook will develop the capability to do the moderation… The government has to take a tough stand and say that laws apply to anything that happens in India. The government needs to have the courage to do that,” he said.

Wadhwa said that these technologies are doing to India what they did to America. “They are ripping societies apart… In America, everyone blames (PM Narendra) Modi for the rise of Hindu nationalism and so on… But it isn’t Modi, it’s technologies like Facebook and Whatsapp that’re causing it. People are getting more and more of the same garbage, and they are believing it. You wake up in the morning to 50 such messages from friends with all of these videos and stories, and you begin to believe it.”

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Asha Menon
first published: Jan 28, 2022 01:04 pm
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