Welcome to our fortnightly newsletter, where our reporters Harsh Jain and Harshita Lilani put together handpicked stories from the world of tech law! You can find other issues here, and you can sign up for future editions of the the newsletter here.
Facebook-Australia standoff ends as both parties agree to truce
Facebook has reached an agreement with the Australian Government and will restore news pages in the country days after restricting them. The decision follows negotiations between the tech giant and the Australian Government, which is set to pass a new media law that will require digital platforms to pay for news. The law, if passed, will make digital platforms pay local media outlets and publishers to link their content in news feeds or search results. Under the amendments, the Australian Government will give digital platforms and news publishers two months to mediate and broker commercial deals before subjecting them to mandatory arbitration under the proposed media law. Both Google and Facebook have fought against the media law since last year. Google previously threatened to remove its search service from Australia in response to the proposed law. But the company has since struck commercial deals with local publishers including the Murdoch family-owned media conglomerate News Corp. Facebook, for its part, followed through with a threat to remove news features from Australia.
- Mike Isaac, Daisuke Wakabayashi, Damien Cave and Edmund Lee, Facebook Blocks News in Australia, Diverging With Google on Proposed Law, The New York Times (February 17, 2021).
- Vlad Savov, Facebook’s Australia Face-Off Could Backfire Across the Globe, BloombergQuint (February 19, 2021).
- Colin Packham and Byron Kaye, Facebook Restores News Pages after Australia Agrees to Tweak Media Law, The Wire (February 23, 2021).
- Gerry Smith, Kurt Wagner, and Angus Whitley, Facebook Cuts Off News in Australia in Fight Over Payments, Bloomberg (February 18, 2021).
- Gerry Smith, Google signs 3-year deal with Murdoch’s News Corp, will pay for news, The Print (February 18, 2021).
- David Fickling, Google and Facebook Lose a Battle to Win the War, Bloomberg Opinion (February 18, 2021).
- Staff, Facebook makes a power move in Australia with news ban, may regret it, Business Standard (February 19, 2021).
Government notifies new IT rules in a bid to curb the misuse of social and digital media
The Central Government notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 which will supersede the existing intermediary liability rules made in 2011. These guidelines cover social media companies, digital news media platforms as well over-the-top (OTT) platforms. Among other things, the new guidelines call upon social media companies to set up stronger grievance redressal mechanisms, enable the tracing of originators of ‘unlawful’ messages, and appoint executives to coordinate with law enforcement agencies. The guidelines also call for three-tier regulation mechanism for OTT platforms like Netflix, YouTube, etc. and require them to self-classify their content into five categories based on age suitability. The new guidelines have garnered severe criticism from sections of civil society who fear that it undermines the constitutional protections to free speech and privacy. Among others, they failed to impress the Supreme Court which expressed dissatisfaction with the guidelines for lacking any coercive provisions for violations. In response to this, the Solicitor General offered to a better draft of the rules for the consideration of the Court.
- Payaswini Upadhyay, Government Notifies New Rules For Social Media, Digital News And OTT Platforms, Bloomberg Quint (February 25, 2021).
- Aashish Aryan and Pranav Mukul, Govt frames new rules to hold social media, OTT accountable for content, The Indian Express (February 27, 2021).
- Anushka Jain, New IT Rules Leave Little Room for Privacy, Free Speech in an Increasingly Surveilled Digital Space, The Swaddle (March 9, 2021).
- Internet Freedom Foundation, Explainer: How the New IT Rules Take Away Our Digital Rights, The Wire (February 26, 2021).
- Amit Khare, Doubts about new IT rules are groundless, The Indian Express (March 8, 2021).
- Radhika Roy, Centre’s OTT Rules ‘Lack Teeth’, Says Supreme Court; Solicitor General Agrees To Present New Draft, Live Law (March 5, 2021).
- Shreya Agarwal, Breaking: Delhi High Court Issues Notice On Plea Challenging Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, Live Law (March 9, 2021).
Recently, Facebook-owned WhatsApp announced it would delay enforcement of its new privacy terms, following a backlash from confused users which later led to a legal challenge in India and various regulatory investigations. Following the outcry, WhatsApp attempted to explain that the privacy update was actually focused on optional business features on the app, which allow a business to see the content of messages between it and the end user, and give the businesses permission to use that information for its own marketing purposes, including advertising on Facebook. Additionally, WhatsApp will begin to roll out a small, in-app banner that will ask users to re-review the privacy policies, a change the company said users have shown to prefer over the pop-up, full-screen alert it displayed before. When users click on “to review,” they will be shown a deeper summary of the changes, including added details about how WhatsApp works with Facebook. The changes stress that WhatsApp’s updates don’t impact the privacy of users’ conversations, and reiterate the information about the optional business features.
- Staff, WhatsApp to start showing banner with more information of privacy update, The Indian Express (February 19, 2021).
Myanmar prepares for military to ratchet up control of the internet
Police in Myanmar filed a new charge against deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as the military authorities who seized power in a coup intensified their crackdown against their opponents. The legal manoeuvre comes two weeks after the military seized power in a shocking halt to Myanmar’s fragile progress toward democracy, most visible in Suu Kyi’s tenure as national leader. Since the coup, the junta has ratcheted up the pressure on protesters resisting the takeover, including violently breaking up some demonstrations and blocking internet access. For a third night in a row, the military ordered an internet blackout, almost entirely blocking online access. Once before in recent weeks, it imposed a similar blackout and has also tried less successfully to block social media platforms. It has also prepared a draft law that would criminalize many online activities. While the military did not say why the internet was blocked, there is widespread speculation that the government is installing a firewall system to allow it to monitor or block most or all online activity.
- Burhan Wazir, Myanmar prepares for military to ratchet up control of the internet, Coda (February 3, 2021).
- Christopher Giles, Myanmar coup: How the military disrupted the internet, BBC News (February 4, 2021).
- Staff, Myanmar’s Suu Kyi faces new charge as crackdown intensifies, Hindustan Times (February 17, 2021).
- Emmy Sasipornkarn, Myanmar Coup: Military Hardens Online Censorship Campaign, The Wire (February 16, 2021).
New York sues Amazon over pandemic labour conditions
The New York attorney general is suing Amazon over COVID-19 safety protocols, accusing the company of being more concerned with making money than protecting its workers from getting sick. The lawsuit filed involves two Amazon facilities in New York City that employ more than 5,000 workers. It alleges that Amazon failed to disinfect those facilities when infected workers had been present; didn’t contact workers when they were exposed to the virus; and made employees work so much that they didn’t have time to disinfect their workstations or stay socially distant. The pandemic has exposed how Amazon, the country’s second-largest private employer, treats its workers who pack and ship orders.
- Staff, New York attorney general sues Amazon over COVID-19 shortfalls, The Economic Times (February 17, 2021).
- Staff, New York sues Amazon over ‘flagrant disregard’ of worker safety during pandemic, Hindustan Times (February 17, 2021).
- Jason Del Rey, New York is suing Amazon over pandemic labor conditions, Recode (February 17, 2020)
- Karen Weise, New York sues Amazon over worker safety during Covid-19 pandemic, Business Standard (February 18, 2021).
- Staff, Amazon sued by New York over ‘deficient’ Covid-19 response, BBC News (February 18, 2021).
RBI extends application deadline as banks and corporate houses come together to set up new umbrella entities for retail payments
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) extended the deadline for submitting applications to set up new umbrella entities (NUEs) from February 26 to March 31 recently. NUEs have been proposed as an alternative to the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) which does not have much competition at present. Among other things, NPCI owns and manages the UPI platform and runs the RuPay network that rivals Visa and MasterCard. Top banks and corporate entities are forming partnerships to apply for the license for NUE that will allow them to set up a digital payments network. Those who receive the license will set-up, manage and operate new payment systems in the retail space, including ATMs, points of sales, remittance services, Aadhaar-based payments. The entities will also manage newer payment methods, standards, and technologies. They will frame necessary rules and related processes to ensure that systems and networks are safe and sound and that payments are exchanged efficiently.
- Gopika Gopakumar, RBI extends application deadline umbrella entity for retail payments, Livemint (February 26, 2021)
- Ira Dugal, As Biggies Rush To Apply For An NUE, Where’s The ‘Ah Ha!’ Idea?”, Bloomberg Quint (March 4, 2021).
- Saritha Rai, New Umbrella Entity is the new digital payments race as Amazon, Google, Facebook jump in, The Print (March 4, 2021).
- Hamsini Karthik, Explained: What is NUE licence for retail payments and who’s interested?, Business Standard (March 4, 2021).
- Pranav Mukul, Explained: Why NUE marks next inflection point for India’s payments ecosystem?, Indian Express (March 8, 2021).
- Advait Palepu, New Umbrella Entity: Everything You Need To Know About NPCI’s Potential Rival(S), Medianama (March 8, 2021).