From the Viewsroom

When Mark meets Mukesh

| Updated on May 01, 2020 Published on May 01, 2020

The FB-Jio deal will change data business in India, and that’s a worry

One of the most intriguing facts about the recently announced mega-deal between Facebook and Reliance Jio is its timing. The $5.7-billion deal comes when the Covid-19 crisis has hit a peak across the globe and the resultant health scare has presented controversy-hit Facebook with an opportunity to get its act together with regard to fighting fake news and become a global information hub for all those engaged in tireless efforts to tackle the coronavirus as well for the public at large. Had the deal been done a year or even a few months ago, when the world’s largest social media network was still licking its wounds from one of the biggest privacy data breach scandals in its, and humanity’s, history, it would have invited a volley of nays and frowns from analysts and social media watchers in India and beyond. On that cue, Mark Zuckerberg and Mukesh Ambani pulled off a well-timed deal and sealed it in style.

That said, when Jio, backed by oil major Reliance Industries, partners with Facebook, which built a formidable business model based on data — rightly called the New Oil — the impact it is going to have on data business in India will be quite game-changing. With over 370 million users, Jio has the largest subscriber base in India. Facebook, with its nearly 300 million users, and another 400 million of sibling WhatsApp, is looking at a major disruption in India going ahead. The social network feels India’s burgeoning data market is set for a big bang thanks to factors such as a throbbing middle-class population, the exponential growth in the use of smartphones — facilitated by the China-sponsored low-cost device revolution — and the amoebic legislations that offer a lucrative avenue for data businesses of all hues.

In this context, it becomes important for the country to make the draft Data Privacy Bill an Act of some strength as soon as possible. India’s policymakers seem to be in no hurry to introduce a coherent, globally competitive and ethically robust legislation to safeguard individual data privacy. With Jio-Facebook is all set to unleash a set of products and services which will glean precious individual data and create layers of business models upon them, the absence of creative regulation can only hurt India’s privacy-illiterate citizens. Considering Facebook’s track record of doing zip to prevent the Cambridge Analytica data profiling scandal, and how it was grilled by regulators across the globe, India must act before it’s too late.

Deputy Editor

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Published on May 01, 2020
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