Parliament committee questions Google over neutrality, controlling user choices

During the meeting, MPs reportedly also asked Google how is it possible that it does not give "preferential treatment" to some advertisers in search results.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai
Google CEO Sundar Pichai
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A parliamentary panel on Thursday questioned "neutrality" of Google when it is engaged in both advertising and content and asked was it not violating fundamental rights of users by "controlling" their choices.

Top executives of the search engine appeared before the Joint Committee of Parliament on the Personal Data Protection Bill and responded to queries related to data security.

Gitanjali Duggal, Google's director and head of legal in India; Aman Jain, head of government affairs and public policy; and Rahul Jain, manager of public policy and government relations, deposed before the panel, headed by BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi.

"They themselves are the platforms, sellers and news agencies. And Google itself has the control button to which information will come first, which will come later, or which news will flash and which will be suppressed. So how it can be a neutral platform?" Lekhi told PTI after the meeting.

Members of the panel, including Congress MP Vivek Tankha, BJP MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar and BJD MPs Bhartruhari Mahtab and Amar Patnaik, posed a number of queries to Google representatives.

According to sources, some panel members asked them the search engine is "controlling the choices of your users, isn't it violation of fundamental rights?"

During the meeting, MPs cutting across party lines asked how can Google be a "neutral platform" when it is engaged in both advertising and content, and how is it possible that it does not give "preferential treatment" to some advertisers in search results, sources said.

Some members also posed questions whether data being processed and stored in the country of origin or somewhere outside, sources said.

Noting that Google has a wider presence and available on different forms on the web, some members said it "has the power to affect the choices of its users" and that needs to be checked.

The members stressed that regulations are required for the safety and processing of data, according to sources.

A few MPs also posed queries about Google's linkages with public relations and image makeover agencies for positive public profiling of individuals on the web by suppressing critical content against them, sources said.

Besides Google, representatives of Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Paytm have deposed before the panel.

Representatives of telecom operators Reliance Jio and Airtel and cab aggregators Ola and Uber have been asked to appear before it.

The committee is examining the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019.

The Personal Data Protection Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha by Minister of Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad on December 11, 2019. The bill seeks to provide for protection of personal data of individuals and establishment of a data protection authority for the same.

The bill was later referred to a joint select committee of both Houses of Parliament. The proposed law seeks bar on storing and processing of personal data by entities without the explicit consent of an individual.

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