Welcome to our fortnightly newsletter, where our editors put together handpicked stories from the world of tech law! You can find other issues here.
US Justice Department’s Big Tech Antitrust Scrutiny
The past month saw a slew of antitrust investigations being opened against big tech companies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc. From the EU’s announcement of an investigation into Amazon’s use of third-party retailers’ data, to the CCI’s order against Google for abusing its dominance in the Android market—the wave against Big Tech’s threats to fair competition has spanned jurisdictions.
In the latest development, the US Justice Department has decided to open a broad investigation into Big Tech companies. The investigation follows bipartisan calls from lawmakers for reigning in the threats posed by big tech to the competitive market. According to the agency, the effort aims to explore grievances raised by consumers and business regarding search, social media and online retail services. This could lead to a heightening of calls for Amazon, Google and Facebook to be broken up. Such companies, especially Facebook, have already faced heat for the way they handle vast amounts of data and jeopardise privacy of individual people.
- Tony Romm, Elizabeth Dwoskin & Craig Timberg, Justice Department announces broad antitrust review of Big Tech, The Washington Post (23 July 2019).
- David McLaughlin, Did Big Tech Get Too Big? More of the World is Asking, The Washington Post (26 July 2019).
- The Editorial Board, US Justice Department Must Make Antitrust Fit For the Age of Big Tech, Financial Times (28 July 2019).
Australia Competition and Consumer Commission Suggests Crackdown on Google and Facebook
Spelling further trouble for Big Tech, The Australia Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) submitted the Digital Report Inquiry on 26 July, 2019 which limits the market dominance of major players including Facebook and Google. The report had 23 recommendations to promote competition and increase privacy of consumers due to the lack of informed consent of consumers that presently exists. Josh Frydenberg, the treasurer of the ACCC, stated that a new division would “lift the veil” on the advertising and marketing algorithms being used by these companies. The division would also be able to conduct public inquiries and require companies to furnish any relevant information. Inquiries can be held about supply of ad services, sufficient transparency over prices and the existence of competition within the market. The report also recommended the implementation of the Australian Law Commission Report, which suggested the introduction of a statutory tort for serious invasions of privacy and a general prohibition on all unfair trade practices. Additionally, the Chairman of the ACCC, Rod Sims, stated that five investigations were underway against Facebook and Google and more could follow.
- Josh Taylor, Facebook and Google face tighter rules in Australia as ACCC releases report, The Guardian (26 July 2019).
- Aditi Agarwal, Australian Anti-Trust Challenges Market Dominance of Google and Facebook in Advertising and Online News, Medianama (26 July 2019).
- Holistic, Dynamic Reforms Needed to Address Dominance of Digital Platforms, ACCC (26 July 2019).
- Tom Westbrook, Australia to ‘lift veil’ on Facebook, Google Algorithms to Protect Privacy, Reuters, (26 July 2019).
POCSO Amendment Bill expands child porn definition
The Protection of Children from sexual Offences (POCSO) Amendment Bill, 2019 introduced in Rajya Sabha by the Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani widened the definition of child pornography that now goes beyond videos. The amended definition now involves any photography, video, digital or computer-generated image indistinguishable from an actual child, and image created, adapted, modified, but appears to depict a child. A new section 15 has also been introduced, which proposes penalties for storage and possession of pornographic material involving children. Although the bill succeeded in garnering support from across the political spectrum, but few MPs criticised the bill for overtly emphasising on punishing the offenders and neglecting the measures to curb sexual assault of children and child pornography.
- PTI, POCSO Amendment Bill, With Death Penalty for Aggravated Sexual Assault, Gets Rajya Sabha Nod, News18 (24 July 2019).
- Deepshikha Ghosh, Derek O’Brien shares sex abuse story, Smriti Irani praises his courage, NDTV (24 July 2019).
- FP Staff, RS passes bill amending POCSO Act: A look back at case of Dhananjoy Chatterjee, last murderer-rapist to be hanged in country, Firstpost (25 July 2019).
- PTI, Rajya Sabha passes POCSO (Amendment) Bill, 2019, The Hindu (24 July 2019).
- Soumyarendra Barik, POCSO Amendment Bill expands child porn definition to ‘any visual depiction of sexually explicit content involving children, Medianama (26 July 2019).
Committee recommends Ban on Private Cryptocurrencies in India
The Indian cryptocurrency market received a major jolt on 22nd July 2019, with the Inter-Ministerial Committee set up under the Chairmanship of Economic Affairs Secretary Subhash Chandra Garg recommending a ban on the use of such cryptocurrencies in India. Set up to look into the legality of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology, the Committee submitted that private currencies should be completely banned in India, and drafted the Banning of Cryptocurrency & Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2019 which mandates a fine and imprisonment of up to 10 years for offences involving the use of such currencies. However, the Committee approved of the advantages of the underlying blockchain technology and floated the idea of an official RBI-backed cryptocurrency in the future, perhaps suggesting that the future of cryptocurrencies is yet to be resolved.
- Asit Ranjan Mishra, Panel favours cryptocurrency ban in India, Livemint (22 July 2019).
- Mike Orcutt, India might ban cryptocurrency and give its users jail time, MIT Technology Review (25 July 2019).
- Amol Agrawal, Private crypto ban: Has India gone overboard?, Moneycontrol (23 July 2019).
- Vikash Kumar Bairagi, Proposed Ban on Cryptocurrency In India: An Analysis Of ‘Banning Of Cryptocurrency & Regulation Of Official Digital Currency Bill, Livelaw (28 July 2019).
- Suprita Anupam, The Aftermath Of India’s Cryptocurrency Ban: Start-ups, Investors Poke Holes In Govt’s Plan, Inc42 (23 July 2019).
Byte dance to invest USD 1 Billion in India over the next three years
Proclaimed to be among the most valuable start-ups in the world, ByteDance plans to invest USD 1 Billion in India over the next three years. ByteDance is the parent company of TikTok, a Chinese video making app which allows users to create and share videos online. On July 17th 2019, the cyber e-security arm of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology sent a notice to TikTok and Helo raising issues related to anti-Indian activities. They were given an ultimatum to respond by July 22nd or face severe consequences. Previously, they had also faced a one week ban in April 2019. Despite all these encumbrances, ByteDance has a promising plan for India. It plans on investing USD 1 billion over the next three years. They would also be increasing the number of employees in India to 1000 by the end of this year. ByteDance implemented several regulatory and safety measures in order to comply with the cultural and political ideologies of the country.
- Ananya Chaturvedi, TikTok and Helo promise to collaborate after India threatens ban, Quartz India, (18 July 2019).
- Aditi Agrawal, Byte Dance to open a data centre in India, Medianama, (22 July 2019).
- PTI, TickTocks parent Byte-Dance plans USD 1 Billion investment in India in next 3 years, The Economic Times, (19 April, 2019).
- IANS, How TickTock made Modi popular among young voters, The Economic Times, (25 May 2019).
- PTI, TikTok’s parent ‘very optimistic’ on India, to invest $1-bn in next 3 yrs, Business Standard, (19 April 2019).