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Can firms monetise non-personal data? Committee exploring options

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Officials said in some cases, the government may even pay the companies for such data, but the firms can’t refuse to share the data. (Representative image)Officials said in some cases, the government may even pay the companies for such data, but the firms can’t refuse to share the data. (Representative image)

The committee on non-personal data is exploring the option of data sharing among industry players, wherein the company owning or having the data can sell it to a rival for a fee, which can be defined by the market. The panel, headed by Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan, has already conducted eight meetings to finalise its stand regarding anonymised and non-personal data and what could be the economic potential of sharing such data.

The panel has met tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon and others in non-technology sectors like pharma, medical, etc.

As per sources privy to the details, there is a clear divide between technology and non-technology companies regarding sharing of data. Most of the tech firms are against any mandatory sharing of data, even for government’s community services, whereas non-tech firms in the medical sector like hospitals feel sharing of data can be beneficial to reduce costs.

It must be mentioned that the Personal Data Protection Bill, which has been approved by the Cabinet and sent to a select committee of Parliament, also has a clause wherein the government can mandate sharing of anonymised personal data for public services. Officials said in some cases, the government may even pay the companies for such data, but the firms can’t refuse to share the data.

Elaborating further, an official said it could be like land acquisition for making highways or roads, where the owner can’t refuse to sell but he will be rewarded accordingly.

The view among the government is that most of the companies are not the owners of the data, which they have collected by getting there first. But this “first-mover advantage” should not act as a barrier to others who also want to enter the market.

The government feels there is a need to recognise the economic dimension of community data, which includes aggregated data, derived data, anonymous data, e-commerce data, artificial intelligence training data, etc. Even the BN Srikrishna-led panel, which had given its recommendations on personal data protection in July last year, had suggested that the government should consider a suitable law regarding community data.

The eight-member committee on non-personal data is expected to have eight or nine more sessions to evolve its viewpoint before submitting its report. The option of open consultation with all the stakeholders is also there. The recommendations of the panel is going to have huge implications for companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba, etc, which have a big user base in India, analysts said. Currently there are no rules that mandate these companies to share data with others. However, some companies on their own do sell the data to third parties for a fee.

Officials in Ministry of Electronics and IT (Meity) told FE that globally, most of the governments are pushing for sharing of data among industry players. A few months back, a digital economy report was released by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which examines the scope for value creation in the digital economy by developing countries.

As per the report by UNCTAD, some global digital platforms have achieved very strong market positions in certain areas. For instance, Google has some 90% of the market for internet searches, Facebook accounts for two-thirds of the global social media market and is the top social media platform in more than 90% of the world’s economies. Amazon boasts an almost 40% share of the world’s online retail activity and its Amazon Web Services accounts for a similar share of the global cloud infrastructure services market. Similarly, in China, WeChat (owned by Tencent) has more than one billion active users and together with Alipay (Alibaba), its payment solution has captured virtually the entire Chinese market for mobile payments.

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