Data has be­come the new oil

Cre­ate norms to op­ti­mise the re­source and al­lay pri­vacy fears

Hindustan Times (Ranchi) - - Comment -

Re­cent re­ports sug­gest that there are more than 500 mil­lion in­ter­net users in In­dia . But only 38.5% of the pop­u­la­tion has ac­cess to the in­ter­net. The num­ber of users is sec­ond only to China, which has 731 mil­lion in­ter­net users (52% have in­ter­net ac­cess). The US, with 312 mil­lion in­ter­net users is the third in the rank­ings, but about 80% of the pop­u­la­tion has ac­cess to the in­ter­net. Ev­ery per­son with a dig­i­tal foot­print is a source of all man­ner of data – where they go, how they shop, how much they spend on what…every­thing one does is grist to the data mill. Data, mod­ern wis­dom has it, is the new oil. And In­dia has a lot of data, with much more ex­pected to be added to the mines as more and more peo­ple get on­line. How we deal with this ‘re­source’ will de­ter­mine our place at the in­ter­na­tional ta­ble in the near fu­ture. It is time to pay se­ri­ous at­ten­tion to is­sues of data pro­tec­tion and lo­cal­i­sa­tion.

As things stand, data col­lected from in­di­vid­u­als is owned and ma­nip­u­lated by the com­pa­nies that col­lect it (such as Google, Ap­ple, Face­book, and Ama­zon – the much vaunted GAFA oli­gop­oly – and oth­ers such as ride shar­ing, food de­liv­ery, gro­cery apps, etc ). A lot of such pri­vately held data can be used for gov­er­nance and pol­icy pur­poses. For in­stance, data from ride-shar­ing com­pa­nies such as Uber and map­ping tools such as Google Maps can pro­vide key in­sights into how peo­ple in cities travel, and help de­velop so­lu­tions for mak­ing travel eas­ier. But since the data is owned by a pri­vate com­pany, pol­icy mak­ers and re­searchers have no ac­cess to it. How­ever, this kind of per­sonal data can also be used as a tool for sur­veil­lance and mon­i­tor­ing pur­poses, if not ef­fec­tively reg­u­lated. It is here that strong data lo­cal­i­sa­tion laws can help. Cre­at­ing a re­spon­si­ble set of rules re­gard­ing min­ing, own­ing, shar­ing, and pro­cess­ing of such data can help reg­u­late this re­source and pro­tect the pri­vacy of cit­i­zens as well.

While large tech com­pa­nies ar­gue that steps such as data lo­cal­i­sa­tion would re­strict free trade and that cross-bor­der data flows are vi­tal for an econ­omy, it is in­cum­bent on gov­ern­ments to pri­ori­tise the se­cu­rity and safety of their cit­i­zens’ data over the profit mar­gins of large MNCs. The Srikr­ishna Com­mit­tee Re­port on data pro­tec­tion and the RBI guide­lines for fin­tech firms re­quir­ing them to store data of cit­i­zens in the coun­try are steps in the right di­rec­tion, but a lot more needs to be done if In­dia is to use the re­source of data ef­fec­tively in the fu­ture.

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