Saturday, October 23, 2021

India's antitrust watchdog CCI must act sans pressure to tame tech giants

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By Nishant Arora

New Delhi, Sep 30 (IANS) As more and more Indian brands and companies strive to go global, the onus is now on the countrys regulators to create a level-playing field for domestic players and reign in the anti-competitive practices of some global tech giants — the way South Korea, Australia and European countries are busy dealing with.

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According to leading industry and law experts, although it is commendable that the Indian regulators — the Competition Competition Commission (CCI) in particular — have taken cognizance of the antitrust challenges and monopolisation tendencies of Google as well as other large global tech companies, what is required now is not penalties for wrongdoing but proactive and progressive legislation.

The CCI launched a probe two years ago into Google’s alleged abuse of the Android Operating System (OS). Recently, the CCI’s Director General (DG) established that Google had indulged in unfair business practices by insisting on the Android OS.

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Google went to the Delhi High Court against the leak of the CCI’s confidential report pertaining to the investigation against the global search engine giant. The anti-trust regulator, however, denied leaking confidential reports to the media.

Taking note of the CCI’s submissions, the high court said nothing survives in the petition filed by Google against the alleged leak of confidential probe information and disposed of the plea.

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According to seasoned Supreme Court lawyer Pavan Duggal, the entire Google-CCI episode demonstrates that there is a big vacuum on data protection legislation in the country and, as a result, such kinds of litigation are being filed.

“In the present case, the CCI has denied allegations of leaking confidential information reports. While the matter is subjudice before Delhi High Court, the said matter indeed brings to the forefront the need for having in place strong data protection legal frameworks in India,” Duggal told IANS.

South Korea’s antitrust regulator has fined Google 207.4 billion won ($176.8 million) for its alleged abuse of the market dominance in the mobile operating system and app markets.

In August, the South Korean parliament passed a bill that would rein in the dominance Google and Apple exert over payments on their respective app stores. It became the first nation in the world to enact such a law.

Australia’s competition watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), said this week that Google dominates the country’s online advertising so thoroughly it must be reined in.

“The ACCC is concerned that the widespread perceptions about how Google uses its first-party data in ad tech may be distorting competition in the supply of ad tech services in favour of Google”.

The ACCC considers that “Google’s vertical integration and dominance across the ad tech supply chain, and in related services, have allowed it to engage in leveraging and self-preferencing conduct, which has likely interfered with the competitive process”.

Sijo Kuruvilla George, Executive Director of The Alliance of Digital India Foundation (ADIF) told IANS that the need of the hour is fair market practices.

“In the long run, it is not ex-post facto fines but proactive and progressive legislative efforts that will nurture and nourish a healthy, innovative and competitive ecosystem,” he said.

Duggal added that the global perception that has emerged of Indian regulators and governmental authorities not being strong enough, needs to be dispelled by strong effective action.

“There is a need for effective action both at legislative front, as well as at effectively implementing existing legal frameworks, so as to put a message of deterrence. The Indian market should not be seen to be a fertile ground for predatory tactics by the big global players,” said Duggal.

In Europe, Google is fighting a 2018 decision from the EU’s executive Commission that resulted in the $5 billion fine for its anticompetitive practices. It’s one of three antitrust penalties — totalling more than $8 billion — that the commission hit Google with between 2017 and 2019.

The Indian market is maturing and is undergoing a distinctive level of evolution. In such times, having strong data protection legal frameworks and anti-market practices regime will go a long way in terms of protecting the interests of domestic market stakeholders.

“The CCI must act without any pressure and take the (Google) probe to its logical conclusion,” said Jiten Jain, one of the leading cyber security experts.

(Nishant Arora can be reached at nishant.a@ians.in)

–IANS

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