The tussle between tech giant Google and payments unicorn Paytm has put the focus back on India’s competition laws pertaining to digital markets. “For long, Google and Apple have been exercising too much control over app developers. This episode shows that it can happen anytime and with any apps. This time they played by the rules, but they can always make these decisions to suit their business interests,” said Gurshabad Grover, senior policy officer at Centre for Internet and Society (CIS).
There is “no clear judgement” when it comes to the Play Store and App Store, about whether they are intermediaries, such as Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms, Grover said. “In the Fermat Education vs Sorting Hat Technologies case of 2018, Madras high court specifically said that if you are pre-screening uploaded content or if some sort of money is involved, then you are moving away from the definition of intermediary, which protects you from liability,” he said.
This isn’t the first time Google has been pulled up in India for one of its platforms. The company has run into trouble with the Competition Commission of India (CCI) for abusing its dominance with Search in 2018, for monopoly in mobile operating systems in 2019, and even in May for a case against Google Pay. CCI slapped a fine of ₹135.6 crore on it for abusing its dominant position in online general web search and web search advertising services.
“We need to have a modular approach to this. India needs to fix the competition law for the digital market. The 2020 proposed amendments to the competition law are a step in the right direction and the government should implement more of the recommendations by the Competition Law Review Committee,” said Grover.
There is also a lack of clarity in how things work in the digital space. Tech policy advisor Prasanto K. Roy said a clear set of instructions from companies like Google is more important in such cases. “It appears there were gaps on both sides. Paytm has a different take on what happened, including that Google was classifying scratch cards and cashback as gambling. Google said that was not the case. It is not clear how much time was given. Paytm says zero, Google says otherwise,” he said.
Self-regulation of platforms such as Google is also required, Roy said. “Why the action is taken should be clear and enough time should be given. When a dominant app in a critical area such as payments is affected, the action should be internally escalated and reviewed,” he said.
CCI is empowered to rein in the power of big tech just like it is done globally. Anisha Chand, partner at law firm Khaitan and Co., said CCI has been investigating various tech companies, including Indian ones, such as Flipkart and MakeMyTrip. “If the question is whether the regulation can be more robust so that these things can be caught in a more timely manner, the answer is probably yes,” she added.
Regulation of big tech is under question worldwide, Chand said. The struggle regulators face is in finding a method that allows regulation without stifling innovation. “The challenge is to strike the right balance between an adequate amount of intervention and at the same time ensure that technology players aren’t disincentivized to come up with creative and innovative ways to make our lives better,” Chand said.
This article was first published on livemint.com