Jaishankar calls for global debate on accountability of big tech firms

Big tech is there, it’s very visibly in my life. You have a big presence [but] where is the responsibility which comes with it? They have huge power, where is the accountability? asked S Jaishankar

Jaishankar criticised the view that if big tech companies are questioned then one is attacking freedom of speech. That, he believed, is a 'cop out'. Pic: PTI

External affairs minister S Jaishankar took the opportunity at an international forum to launch an attack on big tech companies on Wednesday (June 30) questioning their lack of accountability despite the vast influence and power they wielded as “non-state players”.

Emphasising that such issues cannot be brushed under the carpet, Jaishankar called for a debate on big tech companies and the colossal power they enjoyed and the responsibility that comes with it.

Jaishankar made these comments while participating in a virtual talk along with former British prime minister, Tony Blair, at the India Global Forum, reported Hindustan Times.

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This call by India’s external affairs minister to democratic societies to discuss the ramifications of not reining in powerful entities, who are not state players, comes amid the ongoing, sometimes, bitter battle between social media giant Twitter and the Indian government.

Also read: Big Tech Regulation: One step back will not prevent future steps forward

The government has accused Twitter of not complying with the implementation of India’s new digital media rules which came into effect on May 23.

According to Jaishankar, there is a “very vigorous” debate going on in India on big tech.  He acknowledged that technology and innovation are forces of progress that had opened new vistas. They have taken people in directions which are of great benefit and opening up new vistas which we couldn’t have imagined, he added.

However, he said that in a democratic society, we have ask ourselves…“big tech is there, it’s very visibly in my life. You have a big presence [but] where is the responsibility which comes with it? They have huge power, where is the accountability?”

Further, Jaishankar pointed out this issue is not limited to India. “They (big tech) harvest our data as they do across the world. So you have, in a sense, the opposite of the American revolution, which is you have representation and no taxation,” he said, HT report added.

Then he went on to questions the rationale behind the existence of non-state players who are bigger than many states ? International relations itself has been devised on the basis of state-based players, he pointed out.

“These are very serious questions which need debating,” stated Jaishankar, adding that they cannot be brushed under the carpet.

Also read: Facebook m-cap hits $1 trillion after US judge throws out antitrust cases

He criticised the view that if big tech companies are questioned then one is attacking freedom of speech. That, he believed, is a “cop out”. It obviously serves their interest, so it’s a very, very legitimate debate, he pointed out.

Meanwhile, to a question on whether big tech companies were challenging democracy, Blair, describing them as “vast behemoths with enormous power”, said many of these firms should now be seen as public interest companies. They need a regulatory framework within which they should operate since they have enormous impact on the lives of people.

Blair also drew attention to another key issue. According to him, digital divide, is a huge problem which needs to be addressed since hundreds of millions of people don’t have access to technology. He also highlighted the need to focus on the power of China in the technology sphere.

Twitter has been facing the ire of the Indian government for reportedly not complying with the new guidelines which require that they appoint a chief compliance officer, nodal officer and grievance officer. Social media platforms with more than 500 million users have to mandatorily follow this rule.

The social media giant also recently lost its intermediary status in India, making Twitter open to legal action for usage of any unlawful user-generated content on its site. On Tuesday, the police in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have filed cases against Twitter India Managing Director Manish Maheshwari for a map showing the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh as separate from India.

The map, which appeared on the career section of the Twitter website was however removed after there was outrage on social media, said media reports.

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