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Securing India’s Digital Sovereignty
India has decisive political leadership, which, once it understands the implications and extent of India’s digital colonisation, it can immediately secure India’s digital future. Here is a five point agenda to secure India’s digital sovereignty.
Photo Credit :
Mobile applications - apps shutterstock_122099695
2007: The Digital ‘Battle of Plassey’ which Google Won
Before Google and Facebook began yielding insane nuclear, monopolist market power, there was a generation of Indian startups (Sequoia funded Guruji, Sabeer Hotmail Bhatia funded ApnaCircle and a dozen others) that tried to build search engines, maps, and social media platform for India. Those days, risk capital was scarce, India’s venture capital partnerships were itself ‘starting-up’.
Guruji.com was a search engine built on a proprietary technology “that crawled the web identifying Indian content using sophisticated algorithms”. David vs Goliath style, Guruji fought a valiant battle with the infinitely more resourceful Goliath, Google.
Year 2007, Guruji lost & Google won, India.
The Prophecies of Marc and Mark!
During the ensuing commotion of the global financial crisis and resultant parched venture capital funding, Google-Facebook firmly planted their pirate flags atop their ‘search and social’ empires in India and other emerging markets. In the past decade, all Silicon Valley consumer technology giants have landed in India, built massive digital monopolies across vertical social media, mobile operating systems, and instant messaging and most recently invading, nation’s economy critical, real-time-fast payment methods like ‘our’ UPI.
In 2016, coinciding with a decade of Facebook in India, this is what Marc Andressen, Board Member, Facebook said, “Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people, Why stop now”. Mark Zukerberg responded to Marc’s tweet with, “India is personally important to me and Facebook..” Relax, take a few minutes to think what then, and continuing Facebook’s board member, Marc Andressen’s, freudian slip-of-the-tongue means for India.
The present, here is what digital colonialism looks like
Actually, Marc Andressen and Mark Zukerberg, both forecasted correctly since India is very important, they and their ilk, have digitally colonized India.
Indians use these everyday, monopoly digital products because they have to (monopoly effect, Zero consumer choice), & not necessarily, because they want to (competition is ‘always’ better for consumers, more choice and resultant value).
These companies are the new age opium houses, deploying armies of product and design managers to embed dark manipulative psychological designs (colours, fonts, dark patterns) in their products to maximize usage, both in frequency and recency. This leads to a higher return-on-ad-spend for advertisers and resultant more ads, ultimately more profits for platforms which drive up their market capitalisations. The profits get ploughed in their digital internet colonies in emerging markets.
If the features don’t work, the promotional cash backs will. Google has burnt truckloads of cash, investing in in-its-Payments future via GooglePay, now commands an outrageous 50%+ market-share of UPI, and WhatsAppPay desperately waiting for a regulatory green light to join the UPI race. India’s Bhim app now holds a less than 2 % share. ‘Local’ UPI, ‘Local data & ‘they’ get to monetize it.
Mitron vs Facebook Reels
Facebook has now rolled out Reels, the TikTok feature clone on Instagram to fill the vacuum left by a banned TikTok. Perfectly legitimate, but their enormous social media platform distribution leverage leaves the brilliantly designed, heavily localized homegrown social media video apps by young Indians, some still in college dorms, as Indian comic Kunal Kamra says, “Inka (college students) ka canteen main udhari hai, yeh kya…” at a severe disadvantage.
Remember, Facebook won’t ever list in India. When Reels was announced, Facebook shares jumped on the NASDAQ. Not a cent of value will be created in India. Would it not be nice to ensure Chingari, Mitron, and others not meet Guruji.com’s fate
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.