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News Roundup: WhatsApp, Twitter Tackle PILs, Scrutiny In India, & More

News Roundup: WhatsApp, Twitter Tackle PILs, Scrutiny In India, & More

The week began with the Supreme Court seeking responses from Facebook, Google, WhatsApp and Amazon to a plea that seeks to ensure data privacy of users of UPI platforms

Twitter’s move of restoring the accounts/tweets it had earlier blocked upon the request of the Indian government, invited threats of a seven-year jail term

The Delhi High Court has sought a response from the central government regarding another PIL against WhatsApp’s privacy policy

This week brought bigger headaches for big tech companies in India. For WhatsApp, Facebook and Amazon, their worries were amplified by another string of PILs seeking their responses to public paranoia. For some others, such as Twitter, they had to deal with an offensive from the Indian government agencies, which many believe are on a rampage against free speech in the country. 

The week began with the Supreme Court seeking responses from Facebook, Google, WhatsApp and Amazon to a plea that seeks to ensure data privacy of users of UPI platforms. 

The PIL contends that policies of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), “have permitted the three members of ‘Big Four Tech Giants’ i.e. Amazon, Google and Facebook/WhatsApp to participate in the UPI ecosystem without much scrutiny and inspite of blatant violations of UPI guidelines and RBI regulations.”

During the last hearing, RBI had filed a counter-affidavit claiming that the responsibility to ensure that companies like Amazon, Google and WhatsApp operate in compliance with laws governing UPI lies with NPCI. 

Meanwhile, social media platform Twitter, which has been accused of suppressing political voices in various parts of the world, was caught in a storm in India over blocking the Twitter handles of farmers organisation Kisan Ekta Morcha and Indian publication Caravan on February 1, along with several individuals. In all, Twitter blocked at least 250 tweets/accounts upon the request of the Indian government. The accounts were restored later that same day. 

Twitter’s move of restoring the accounts, while pleasing a section of Indian netizens, invited the ire of the Indian government. A couple of days later, it was reported that the Indian government had warned Twitter India officials of a seven-year jail term for not upholding orders to suspend accounts that were allegedly spreading propaganda. 

Post the entire fracas, media reports have pointed out that Twitter’s action on a few select handles of Indian organisations and individuals was a minuscule fraction of the total number of requests it receives from the Indian government for suspending accounts which post anti-government tweets. One such report said that India’s requests for blocking content go into the thousands, far exceeding 250. 

Responding to another PIL against WhatsApp’s privacy policy, the Delhi High Court has sought responses from the central government. The matter will be heard by the Delhi HC next on March 19, 2021.

Other News

  • The Indian government, in its full Union Budget document released on Monday, clarified that transactions involving royalty or fee for technical services, will remain taxable at 10% under the Income Tax Act (I-T Act) and no further equalisation levy of 2% on the consideration amount will be charged. 
  • The National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) reported a minor bump in UPI transactions for January 2021. UPI recorded 2.30 Bn transactions in January 2021, which is 3% higher than the 2.23 Bn transactions recorded in December 2020. The transaction volume also increased by 3% from INR 4.16 Lakh Cr to INR 4.31 Lakh Cr.
  • In an alleged data breach, sensitive information of 25 lakh Airtel users was made publicly available on a website. While Airtel has denied the data breach, some of the leaked phone numbers have been confirmed to be of active Airtel subscribers. The data was allegedly leaked by a hacking group named Red Rabbit and included names, phone numbers, dates of birth, home addresses, Aadhaar and international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) numbers. 
  • Future Group has said that Securities and Exchange Board of India’s (SEBI) barring of the company’s founder Kishore Biyani from the securities market for one year is unlikely to impact the Future Group-Reliance Retail deal
  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), during its Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting on February 5 (Friday), said payment system operators including the National Payments Corporation Of India and other major service providers would be required to set up centralised industry-wide 24×7 helpline for addressing customer queries. This after multiple complaints from the public domain about there being no grievance redressal mechanisms for digital payment products and services.

Stay tuned for next week’s News Roundup!