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IT Rules: Government Issues FAQs; Says Norms Consistent With Right to Freedom of Speech, Expression



By Press Trust of India | Updated: 2 November 2021

The government on Monday said the new IT rules are consistent with the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution, and do not place additional obligations on users.
Releasing a set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) around the intermediary guidelines, IT ministry said the rules have a clear focus on protecting online privacy of individuals, and that even with regard to identification of the first originator of messages, safeguards are in place to ensure that privacy of users is not violated.

Overall, the FAQs seek to address queries that Internet and social media users may have about scope of the new rules, major changes it brings over past provisions, how the rules enhance safety of women and children, and due diligence to be done by an intermediary, among others.

In one of the questions, the ministry said the rules do not infringe on right to free speech and expression.

“The new IT rules, 2021 have been framed consistent with these rights. The rules place no additional obligations on users and do not contain any sort of penalties applicable on users,” it said.

Further, the ministry said the rules define ”social media intermediary” as an intermediary which primarily or solely enables online interaction between two or more users and allows them to “create, upload, share, disseminate, modify or access information using its services”.

Typically, any intermediary whose primary purpose is enabling commercial or business-oriented transactions, providing access to Internet or search-engine services, e-mail service or online storage service, etc. will not qualify as a social media intermediary, the ministry said in the 20-page document.

To qualify as a social media intermediary, enabling of online interactions should be the primary or sole purpose of the intermediary, it explained.

“Therefore, typically, an entity which has some other primary purpose, but only incidentally enables online interactions, may not be considered as a social media intermediary,” it said.

The scope of enabling online interactions would extend to facilitating “socialisation/social networking, including the ability of users to increase their reach and following, within the platform via specific features like follow/subscribe etc.”.

According to the ministry, offering opportunity to interact with unknown persons or users, and ability of enabling virality of content by facilitation of sharing would also amount to enabling online interaction, it said.

Separately, the ministry will come out with the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) around the IT rules and intermediary norms that would contain details of the appropriate agencies who will have the authority to issue takedown notices to platforms.

The IT Rules, 2021 are meant to benefit general users, who are using any intermediary platform, it said, adding that the norms provide for increased safety of netizens and ensure accountability of platforms by way of a robust grievance redressal mechanism.

“The rules, by providing these reasonable mechanisms and remedies, strive to ensure that social media platforms remain a safe space for all users, free from cyber threats, harassment and unlawful content,” it said.

As per IT rules, the chief compliance officer and the nodal contact person cannot be the same person whereas the roles of the nodal contact person and the resident grievance officer may be performed by the same person.

“However, keeping in view the functional requirements of the nodal contact person and the resident grievance officer, it is desirable that SSMI (Significant Social Media Intermediary) appoints separate persons for the two roles,” it said.

A parent SSMI can appoint common officers across its products/services. But the contact details to approach these officers are required to be clearly mentioned on each of those product and service platforms separately.

To a question on whether detection of first originator of the message could compromise end-to-end encryption, the ministry clarified that the intent of the rule is not to break or weaken the encryption but merely to obtain the registration details of the first Indian originator of the message.

A typical principle of detection is based on the ”hash value” of the unencrypted message, wherein identical messages will result into a common hash irrespective of the encryption used by a messaging platform.

“How this hash will be generated or stored needs to be decided by the concerned SSMI, and SSMI are free to come up with alternative technological solutions to implement this rule,” it said.

It is pertinent to mention here that India enforced new IT intermediary rules earlier this year, aiming to bring greater accountability for big tech companies, including Twitter and Facebook.

The rules require social media platforms to remove any content flagged by authorities within 36 hours and set up a robust complaint redressal mechanism with an officer being based in the country. Social media companies are required to take down posts depicting nudity or morphed photos within 24 hours of receiving a complaint.

Significant social media companies – those with over 50 lakh users – also have to publish a monthly compliance report disclosing details of complaints received and action taken as also details of contents removed proactively.

“Internet for all of the good things represents the ability to deliver good governance, ability for last person in democracy to reach out to government.

“… but it also represents significant growth in things we refer to as user harm and criminality and so policy making has to address, grow the good, and address the bad in a manner that is transparent and effective,” Minister of State for Electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar said while releasing the FAQs.

As the cyberspace is evolving, so is the nature of “good and bad” on cyberspace. The government’s policy making is aimed at ensuring that interest of users are protected by way of greater accountability of platforms, he said.

“Internet must always remain open… openness means it is bereft from not just state and government influence but is also free from dominant big tech influence and one of ways to normalise that is to create among bigger platforms a culture of rules-based accountability to their users,” he said.

He also said that the biggest stakeholders of Internet are millions of Indians who are using it and nearly 80 crore Indians are online.

“We appreciate the government’s efforts in bringing more clarity on the 2021 IT rules. We look forward to studying the FAQs” a Meta spokesperson said. Facebook recently rebranded itself as Meta.

When contacted, Google said the company is reviewing the FAQs document.

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Google Delays Mandatory Return to Office Beyond January 10



By Reuters | Updated: 3 December 2021

Alphabet’s Google said on Thursday it is indefinitely pushing back its January return-to-office plan globally amid growing concerns over the Omicron variant of the coronavirus and some resistance to company-mandated vaccinations.

Google in August had said it would expect workers to come in about three days a week from January 10 at the earliest, ending its voluntary work-from-home policy.

On Thursday, Google executives told employees that the company would put off the deadline beyond that date. Insider first reported the news.

Google said the update was in line with its earlier guidance that a return to workplaces would begin no earlier than January 10 and depend on local conditions.

Nearly 40 percent of US employees have come into an office in recent weeks, Google said, with higher percentages in other parts of the world.

But CNBC reported last week that hundreds of employees have protested the company’s vaccination mandate for those working on US government contracts.

Google was one of the first companies to ask its employees to work from home during the pandemic. It has about 85 offices across nearly 60 countries.

Europe has so far recorded 79 cases of the Omicron variant, first detected in southern Africa last month, the European Union’s public health agency said earlier on Thursday.

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Facebook Owner Meta Asked by UK Competition Watchdog to Sell Giphy



By Reuters | Updated: 1 December 2021

Facebook owner Meta has been told by the UK competition watchdog to sell popular animated images platform Giphy in Britain’s first such move against so-called Big Tech in its efforts to bolster regulation of the sector.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it had found that last year’s acquisition of Giphy would reduce competition between social media platforms and in display advertising.

Facebook, which was recently rebranded as Meta Platforms, said it could appeal against the CMA’s decision. It has four weeks to appeal.

“The tie-up between Facebook and Giphy has already removed a potential challenger in the display advertising market,” said Stuart McIntosh, chair of the independent investigation on Facebook-Giphy for the CMA.

“By requiring Facebook to sell Giphy, we are protecting millions of social media users and promoting competition and innovation in digital advertising.”

Facebook said it disagreed with the decision.

“We are reviewing the decision and considering all options, including appeal,” a Meta spokesperson said in a statement.

The CMA in October fined the company a record $70 million (roughly Rs. 525 crore) for breaching an order imposed during its investigation into the acquisition, having said in August that it may need Facebook to sell Giphy.

Competitor access

Facebook bought Giphy, a website for making and sharing animated images, or GIFs, for a reported $400 million (roughly Rs. 2,990 crore) in May 2020 to integrate the operation with its Instagram photo-sharing app. It has defended the deal to the CMA.

Another major provider of GIFs is Google’s Tenor.

The regulator, however, was concerned that Meta could deny competitors access to Giphy GIFs, or force the likes of TikTok, Twitter, and Snapchat to provide more user data to use them.

It also said that innovative advertising services launched by Giphy in the United States before the deal could have been expanded to other markets such as Britain, where Meta controls nearly half of the GBP 7 billion (roughly Rs. 69,780 crore) display advertising market.

The CMA has been stepping up regulation of the Big Tech sector.

Last week Alphabet’s Google pledged more restrictions on its use of data from its Chrome browser to address CMA concerns about plans to ban third-party cookies that advertisers use to track consumers.

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Google Fined in Russia for Not Deleting Banned Content from Search, YouTube



By Reuters | Updated: 30 November 2021

Google has been asked to pay a fine of RUB 3 million (roughly Rs. 30 lakh) on Monday for not deleting content a Moscow court deemed illegal, part of a wider dispute between Russia and the Alphabet-owned US tech giant.

Russia in October threatened to fine Google a percentage of its annual Russian turnover for repeatedly failing to delete banned content on its search engine and YouTube, in Moscow’s strongest move yet to rein in foreign tech firms.

Google, which last month said it had paid more than RUB 32 million (roughly Rs. 3.2 crore) in fines, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Russia has issued several small fines to US tech companies this year. State communications regulator Roskomnadzor has slowed down the speed of Twitter since March and has told Reuters it will not lift the restrictions on mobile devices until all illegal content is removed.

Last week, Italy’s antitrust watchdog imposed EUR 20 million (roughly Rs. 170 crore) in fines on Apple and Google, the second time the regulator has sanctioned US tech giants this week.

European countries have cracked down on the business practices of Big Tech in recent years, while the EU is moving forward with legislation to tighten regulation.

The Italian competition authority said it fined Apple and Google EUR 10 million (roughly Rs. 85 crore) each for violations of the consumer code, including failing to provide enough information to custome and resorting to “aggressive methods” in the use of their data for commercial ends.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Reliance-Future Deal: Amazon Asks India Antitrust Body to Revoke Approval



By Reuters | Updated: 29 November 2021

Amazon has asked India’s antitrust regulator to revoke its approval for Future Retail’s $3.4 billion (roughly Rs. 25,470 crore) sale of retail assets to Reliance, saying it was “illegally obtained”, violating an order suspending the deal, a letter seen by Reuters shows.

The approval for the deal was a “nullity in the eyes of law” as an arbitrator’s order was still in force, according to the letter sent by Amazon to the Competition Commission of India (CCI) last week.

The battle between two of the world’s richest men, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Reliance boss Mukesh Ambani, marks a contest for preeminence in India’s booming, nearly trillion-dollar retail market.

The winner in the fight for Future Retail, India’s second-largest retailer and Amazon’s estranged local partner, will get pole position in the race to meet the daily needs of more than a billion people.

The CCI, Amazon, Future Group, and Reliance did not respond to requests for comment.

Future has said the arbitrator’s suspension order was invalid but Indian courts have declined to overturn it.

If the regulator agrees with the previously unreported letter, it would be a major setback for oil-to-telecom conglomerate Reliance.

Amazon won an injunction against the deal from a Singapore arbitrator last year, alleging Future had violated contracts that prevented it from selling the assets to entities including Reliance.

But the CCI later cleared the deal.

Future misled the CCI and continued to seek approval for the deal, Amazon said in the letter dated Wednesday, calling the injunction a “brazen attempt to subvert the rule of law”.

Amazon asked for a personal hearing from the CCI to make its case.

The letter comes as Amazon is also battling allegations that it misrepresented facts and concealed information while seeking antitrust clearance for a 2019 deal with Future Group.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Artificial Intelligence Can Help Reduce Backlog of Pending Cases: Law Minister Kiren Rijiju



By Press Trust of India | Updated: 27 November 2021

Law Minister Kiren Rijiju on Saturday said artificial intelligence could help in “surprising ways” to ensure sustainable justice delivery and reduce backlog of pending cases.

Addressing the concluding session of a Supreme Court-organised two-day Constitution Day event, he said artificial intelligence (AI) can help in implementing court management tools like case flow management, case management clearance rates, online information of case laws, and automated algorithm-based support system, which can all add to the efficiency of judicial functioning.

Since courts in India are already undergoing a transformational change by going digital, the emerging domain of AI could help in surprising ways to ensure sustainable justice delivery and reduce backlog of pending cases, the minister said.

He said machines, of course, cannot replace human judges, but they could assist judges in the decision-making process by giving calculated and unbiased opinions.

Synchronisation of AI with human wisdom can help bring speed to delivery of justice, Rijiju said.

President Ram Nath Kovind, Chief Justice of India N V Ramana, judges of the Supreme Court and high courts, among others, were present at the event.

Referring to concerns over pending cases in different courts, the minister said adequacy of judicial infrastructure is critical for reduction of pendency and backlog of cases in courts.

The present government, Rijiju said, is sensitive to the needs of providing well equipped judicial infrastructure to the subordinate judiciary to facilitate administration of justice in a manner that allows easy and timely delivery of justice to all.

The government is committed to investing maximum possible resources for building the next generation quality infrastructure so that they develop into engines of economic growth, he noted.

The role of the judiciary in the adjudication of infrastructure disputes and keeping the larger national interests in mind is crucial for the flow of the developmental trajectory and overall project costs, he said.

Referring to the alternative dispute resolution mechanism to lower the burden of courts, Rijiju said the central government has been taking various policy initiatives for promotion and strengthening of the mechanism, through amendments in existing laws. As a continuation of this exercise, bringing a standalone law on mediation is under consideration, he told the gathering.

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Amazon Drug Peddling Case: 10 Dealers Registered at Same Address in Bhind From Where Marijuana Was Smuggled



By ANI | Updated: 27 November 2021

In a new revelation in the Amazon drug peddling case, 10 dealers had been found registered at the same address from where the marijuana was being smuggled in Madhya Pradesh’s Bhind, informed the Police. Recently, Madhya Pradesh Police busted an alleged racket of the sale of marijuana in the name of Kadi Patta (curry leaves) through Amazon and arrested three accused.

A Gujarat-based textile company named Babu Tex was involved in the sale of drugs at Madhya Pradesh in the drug peddling case.

“Amazon informed that 10 more dealers are registered at the same address (Babu Tex), out of which six sellers have supplied 360 packets of marijuana worth Rs 47 lakhs (via PhonePe),” said the Bhind’s Superintendent of Police Manoj Kumar.

“After getting the company registered under the name Babu Tex, marijuana was being supplied to different parts of the country through the company,” said the SP.

In this case, arrests have also been made in Visakhapatnam in addition to Bhind and Gwalior, added the SP.

“Buyers are the same who purchased from Babu Tex,” he added.

“A police team was sent to Vizag to collect information. FIR has been lodged there.”

Amazon has been asked to provide information on sellers, transport, and warehouse.

Bhind SP had appealed to cooperate in the investigation on Amazon company, after which on Friday, a team of four members including Amazon company’s legal head Swati Agarwal and lawyer Sumant Narang reached Bhind and met the SP Manoj Kumar Singh.

The SP had a conversation with the team of Amazon.

Further investigations are underway.

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