India panel urges social media crackdown – reports

An Indian parliamentary panel is pushing for social medial platforms to be treated as publishers, arguing there should be tighter control of the content they publish, according to local press reports.

The recommendations come from the Joint Parliamentary Committee's review of the Personal Data Protection Bill that came into effect in 2019. The law was passed to protect user privacy and to enforce stricter control of the way Internet companies collect, store and use personal information.

The goal is to better regulate the content published on social media sites, with the panel arguing that social media companies should be held accountable for content published on their platforms.

The Joint Parliamentary Committee also recommends that the provisions of the Personal Data Protection Bill should include non-personal data as well. The committee wants it to be renamed The Data Protection Bill, 2021.

The existing law treats social media platforms as intermediaries, which means that they are not liable for user content. The new recommendations will be presented to parliament during the winter session that starts today.

India is one of the biggest markets for social media firms such as Facebook and Twitter. If these recommendations are passed in the revised bill, they could have a massive impact on those companies – not just in India but worldwide.

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Under the bill, violations can lead to a fine of up to 4% of social media companies' annual global revenues. That rate is similar to the penalties and fines levied by the European Union (EU) on US tech giants.

A change to Indian law could also prompt other countries to legislate in this area. India is not the only country exploring ways of holding social media companies accountable for the content generated on their platforms, with the US and EU also working on legislation to control their growing influence.

India had come up with intermediary guidelines for the social media firms earlier this year. Those included setting up offices in India, appointing compliance officers and removing content at the government's request. Facebook's WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit against these rules.

With the growing take-up of smartphones in India, social media firms have become prominent. A ban on the use of Chinese apps such as TikTok and Helo has also driven users toward popular US sites including Facebook and Twitter.

— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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