Monday, April 16, 2012

Googling in India- A take on the latest Google Privacy Policy

Prepared by Madhu.S, Team Lead, Centre for Public Policy Research

Google has set the revolution, led the revolution and might kill the revolution. That's what is predicted from the latest Google Privacy Policy woes. UK has asked the search engine (a bigger state entity indeed!!) to revisit few of the privacy provisions in terms of the UK Data Protection laws. Brazil have issued notice on them stating direct infringement of the privacy of their individuals, while other non-US state entities are increasingly worried of protecting their privacy than protecting their citizens. India which does not have a Privacy or a Data Protection policy of its own, still owes allegiance to the Supreme Court rulings on Privacy as a constitutional and fundamental right. The Indian Government has now approved the privacy policy without any riders The latest censure notice by the Government on Google, Facebook, Yahoo etc, had created enough virtual criticism to the government, that Kapil Sibal, IT Minister had to retract and rely on safe harbour principles. The Indian case scenario is interesting for the matter that, as a sovereign, secular democratic republic, censure let alone screening is really difficult in the democratic setup. At the same time, overzealous citizens might cry foul on any one incident of privacy intrusion that can happen. From phone tapping to Overhead cameras in traffic junctions, the matter has been debated and discussed with no specific conclusions typical of a democratic setup. Google privacy policy therefore might not stir as much debate as Radia tapes or Wikileaks. Even if one feels impinged or infringed, he will have to read up US and EU decisions on data privacy and protection, as Google is subject to US jurisdiction. He will get a feel on how difficult it would be to damage Google’s goggles.

The recent Google Privacy policy is an improved version of its earlier ones with emphasis on customised service delivery or in google’s word “a new experience
 to show you more relevant search results and ads, to help you connect with people or to make sharing with others quicker and easier”. Google Adsense and Google Street view (which has still not come live after Karnataka government didnt give clearance in Bangalore) were created with a purpose of offering personalised service delivery to its users. The present policy was considered to be vague as it did not mention how the data is been used to improve its services, as claimed by Google. While it confined to explain how it will done and what improvements will be made. So when a person searches for Samsung Galaxy, he will get repeated offers from various online shopping sites on similar phones next time he searches in the google. This is a good case of marketing, but a bad case for data protection, as it is assumed that google can get personal information on its users which can be used against him. If we are in war with U.S and as long as Google is in US, we need to fear :). The latest case of a facebook user filing suit against them for not deleting his 14 years wall postings which contain information on how he behaved is an interesting scenario that can arise often.
Google's video sharing site YouTube has 20 million unique users in India, while Gmail penetration in India stands at 62 percent helping the newly launched Google+ to get 2.8 million users, not bad compared to low internet penetration in India (but which is increasing at the rate of 200 percent), where as US with 5.3 million users is the clear leader. As long as India remains the largest democracy with the largest number of ‘search heads’ with the largest increase in internet usage, google has reasons to cheer about. What the government would therefore needs to keep in mind is how to tap the potential of google while preserving and protecting its data users. Aadhar has set the tone, and with latest Data Sharing and Remote Sensing policies, we have started to rely more on data than conviction, which is definitely the way forward. The ministries endeavour should therefore be in devising a liberal data protection strategy with guidelines on screening and censure unlike the China example. At the same time we are liberty to ask Google to frame a Privacy policy in tune with the Indian laws. This shall include a clear direction as to the manner in which information of Indian citizens is used, with a checklist for ‘where and how’. Further the remedies available to Indian citizens in case of infringement and violation of privacy, data protection, security etc. The vast experience of google can be utilized to create data security systems where India is struggling.

Therefore, if we want to address any complaints of violation of privacy or infringement, the laws need to be clear and convention set right. The internet shall neither be regulated nor controlled but monitored. The Government of India needs to be proactive in passing this message to Google. Once cloud computing becomes a practice, we will require our governance to be above cloud and provide relief to its citizens.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Katju's Media aphorisms- Reforms and Suggestions

Former Justice Markandey Katju has been hogging the media headlines for his bold comments on Media and related things. He started with the need to include mass media under the Press Council, to the famous equation of media with 'low level of intellectual capacity'. This was further fomented by 'media offering opium to masses' and taking a dig on media's highlights after Dev Anand's death, with the statement that "The country is facing several socio economic problems, there is poverty, price rise and incidents like farmers suicide. Isn't all that more important". He has also condemned the practice of media in abstaining from regulations mentioning that ''Self-regulation is no regulation''. Katju has however justified all his comments which was aimed at cleansing the muddy state of affairs in the media houses. Many critics feel that, this was more of a problem of chosing the wrong candidate for the right post and condemning judges appointment in various commissions and councils. This argument has some truth, as judges are prone to review and judge on each acts, when it is required them to be suggestive or reformative through consensus building, a behavioural tendency judges lose over the time. The Central Government needs to understand the requirements of such an authority and appoint persons who are subject experts or who have enough know-how to facilitate the smooth functioning of the establishment, both print and media. 

While de-supporting ( if i am allowed to use this new word) the norm of selecting judges to such posts, I stand by what Former Justice Katju has stated over the time. He has been bold, frank and to the point in condemning the role of media in the present context. He was suggesting norms for 'What is' and 'What ought to be' Press and Media. While the media has been constantly playing safe stating that they write what the audience ( or market in business terms) want. There is more to the argument of the role of The Fourth Estate in the affairs of a state. While the biblical statement of a transparent, open and responsible media is required in a democracy stands true, in reality, their requires wider reforms and approach to build a responsible fourth estate. Recently, they have been successful in bringing out scams and scandals, but failed in a reformative role. The stand taken for and against 'India against Corruption' , the subsequent silence on Nira Radia tapes, Wikileaks cables  stands vindicated. This is in addition to the silent paid news syndrome which goes unabated inspite of the strong condemnation from the part of government, courts and Press Council. There is more truth to the argument of Katju on the quality of the news reports which the media or press carries. Often, they are high at sensationalising, low at data, and nil on truth. This can be seen as a market trend, but does not reflect on the social ethos which require an informed citizen to be fed with reliable facts and truths. Only the press or media can 'change the game', as it subject to no one's control. but everyone's trust. While Katju affirms the need for a strong guidelines requiring every press or media to act withing the framework with a strong sense of justice, morality and good faith, something which the judges like to declare more often in their judgments. 

What is required is a self assessment by the power players, which is currently neatly intertwined with politics. Sensationalisation can be characterised and categoriesed through 'tabloids' prevalent in US and other western countries. Let the choice be given to the readers rather than being enforced. This categorisation shall be done on the basis of a set of principles which shall be evaluated by people within the industry monitored by the government (at max). Unlike the ratings scheme of the Censor Board, this shall not be decide by person totally unrelated to the field (includes judges). 

A strong Reader's Editor ( a better version than what The Hindu has), will give scope for a larger play for readers. Currently, the readers are mute spectators, with 'take it or leave it' option. But the fact is the average Indian though is argumentative is not judgmental or rationale at some times. This has lot to do with education (primary as well as higher), the cultural setup and parental syndrome ( 80 percent believe what parents tell them, therefore were parents are illiterate, the children will be irrational and illogical). This can be corrected to a good extent by good and truthful reporting, whether backed by photos or bites. Feedback columns, inviting content reviews from readers and opinionated columns can give more role to the readers. 
Good research, though not necessarily exhaustive research  is important. Training of journalists require a more standard approach because of its uniqueness. Often imparting of knowledge is bad and the intellectual levels low. This requires a professional system of selection, training and imparting of knowledge. 

Further, the income levels of media professionals and journalists are very low which has direct relation to the standards (I would confess politicians are also included, but they stand the bigger test of elections). Low wages make it difficult for competent people to stick on the profession, inspite of the fame and other benefits attached to a journalist or a media personnel. The current Wage Board requires to reassess their strategy as it is left to the owners to decide on the wages. Majority of them are contract employees, a convenient legal mechanism which further disowns smart people. Katju can very well push for a better mechanism in consultation with the Ministry in working out a 'workable formula' where the employees are sufficiently compensated.

At the end of the day, as Katju rightly points, what is required is to upgrade the intellectual capacity of an average journalist or media man. This requires a strong backing by the industry in terms of employment and working conditions, the reading community in recognising the efforts of the reporters and all those connected with the final product and finally the individuals who want to join the profession to follow ethics and principles by themselves rather than being enforced. We stand the trial by media, but the media needs to stand itself not be put in the accused box. Hope Katju will be acknowledging these!! Long live media freedom !!!

Monday, April 02, 2012

Compulsory Hallmarking of Gold

India is the largest gold consuming economy as per World Gold Council, accounting for nearly 20 percent of world’s gold demand. Gold is not merely a product and commodity in India, but is integrated with our culture as a precious metal. Though adulteration of gold has been rampant for centuries, recent instances involving presence of metals like ruthenium and iridium within gold has created panic, mostly because they are radioactive and being similar to gold cannot be identified by simple apparatus available in local laboratories.

Hallmark is an official mark, granted by Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) certified representatives, which act as a third party assurance and certification that the customer gets the right purity of gold(or silver) for the given price(value for money). As on today, hallmarking of gold is not compulsory, but only a voluntary process for gold merchants. Currently, only 81 items are to compulsorily certified in India. It is surprising to note that items like steel, milk powder and cement are to mandatorily certified to be sold in India, but a product as important as gold is left out from the list.

In practical terms, to include gold as a mandatorily certified item, only a policy decision is required, as understood from Sec.14 of Bureau of Indian Standards Act, 1986 (reproduced below).

Sec.14 reads as follows:

14. If the Central Government, after consulting the Bureau(read as BIS), is of the opinion that it is necessary or expedient so to do, in the public interest, it may, by order published in the Official Gazette, -

  1. notify any article or process of any scheduled industry which shall conform to the Indian Standard; and
  2. direct the use of the Standard Mark under a licence as compulsory on such article or process.

Further, it is worrying to understand that supportive legal provisions are also not in the best interests of consumers like:

Ø Even if gold is to be compulsorily certified, punishment for violating the above provision, as mentioned in Sec.33 of the Act is only an imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine which may extend to fifty thousand rupees, or with both.

Ø As per Clause 5.1 of Scheme for Certification of Gold, Bureau of Indian Standards is not responsible for the adulterated gold even though they are certified by BIS approved assaying centres. Clause 5.1 is reproduced below

5.1 In the event of any claim being filed by the consumer / purchaser / importer against the above Mark and not “conforming to” the declared fineness as per the relevant Indian Standard, BIS shall not in any way be liable.

Ø As per Clause 7 of the Scheme(reproduced below), even in cases wherein the hall marking procedure is not complied, there is no provision for strict enforcement and the only remedy is a replacement of the jewellery.


7.1 Any consumer who purchases hallmarked jewellery can get the same tested from any BIS recognized Assaying & Hallmarking Centre.

7.2 In case Hallmarked jewellery sample brought by the consumer is found to be of lesser purity than that marked on jewellery, the testing charges would be refunded to the consumer by the centre who had hallmarked the jewellery. The jeweller shall be obliged to satisfy the customer through replacement.

7.3 In case sample fails first time, the jeweller would be issued warning for taking corrective actions. However in case of second failure within a period of 6 months, the licence would be processed for cancellation.

7.4 The licence may be granted afresh based on fresh application and fees as applicable subject to satisfactory settlement of the earlier complaint.

In the case of Akhil Bharathiya Upbhokta Congress v. Agarwal Jewellers (2006), National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, observed that it is a basic consumer right as per Consumer Protection Act,1986 to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods to protect the consumer against unfair trade practice. Hence, it was concluded that Hallmarking of Gold needs to be compulsory, in the interest of consumers.

It is commonly known that reforms have been pending for so long owing to the heavy lobbying by affected parties. However, Union Cabinet on Jan 3rd, 2012 has approved the proposal for amending the Bureau of Indian Standards Act,1986 to the extent of mandating that gold is to be compulsorily hall marked.(more details are not available). But is it clear that a mere amendment to the Act will only make implementation illusory, as a comprehensive amendment to the Act and supporting rules are required.