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India’s Proposed IT Rules, Panel Formation for Content Moderation Decisions Concern US Tech Giants

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US lobby groups representing Facebook and Twitter are concerned India’s plan to form a government panel to hear appeals against content moderation decisions could lack independence, documents seen by Reuters show. The proposed policy change is the latest flashpoint between India and technology giants which have for years said stricter regulations are hurting their business and investment plans. It also comes as India clashes with Twitter in a high-profile spat, which recently saw the social media firm sue the government in a local court to revoke some content removal orders.

The June proposal mandates social media companies must comply with a newly formed government panel which will decide on user complaints against content moderation decisions. The government has not specified who would be on the panel.

But the US-India Business Council (USIBC), part of the US Chamber of Commerce, and US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), have both raised concerns internally, saying the plan raises worries about how such a panel could act independently if the government controls its formation.

The rules will create a Grievance Appellate Committee (GAC) “which is entirely controlled by the (IT) Ministry, and lacks any checks or balances to ensure independence,” USIBC stated in an internal July 8 letter addressed to India’s IT ministry.

“In the absence of industry and civil society representation, such GACs may result in over regulation from the government.”

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The new Indian proposal was open for public consultation until early July and no fixed date for implementation has been set.

Underscoring its concerns, USIBC noted that other countries like the European Union guarantee principles of “fairness and impartiality” in its appeal process, while a government-funded think tank in Canada recommends an “impartial dispute resolution” by a “disinterested professional body”.

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The other group, USISPF too expressed concern internally in one document dated July 6, questioning “how will its (panel’s) independence be ensured.”

Together, USIBC and USISPF represent top technology companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Alphabet Inc’s Google — companies that often receive government takedown requests or carry out content review proactively.

USIBC, Facebook and Google did not respond to requests for comment, while USISPF and Twitter declined comment. India’s IT ministry did not respond.

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A senior Indian official told Reuters on Wednesday the government was open to not having an appeals panel if companies come together and form their own “fairly neutral” self regulatory system of addressing user problems.

“If they don’t do it, government will have to. The panel is expected to operate independently,” said the official.

Tension flared between India and Twitter last year when the company declined to comply fully with orders to take down accounts the government said were spreading misinformation. Twitter has also faced backlash for blocking accounts of influential Indians, including politicians, citing violation of its policies.

Other US tech companies such as Mastercard, Visa, Amazon, and Walmart’s Flipkart have had a host of issues with Indian policies on data storage, stricter compliance requirements as well as some foreign investment rules many executives say are protectionist in nature.

The Indian government has said it was forced to announce the new rules in a bid to set “new accountability standards” for social media giants.

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Without specifying which rights, the proposals also call for companies to “respect the rights guaranteed to users under the Constitution of India” as companies had “acted in violation” of such rights.

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Both USIBC and USISPF note in their documents they believe fundamental rights in India can’t be enforced this way.

“The fundamental rights are not enforceable against private companies … The rule appears to be broad, and will be difficult to demonstrate compliance,” USIBC said.

© Thomson Reuters 2022


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US Senate Panel Approves Bill Empowering News Organisations to Negotiate With Facebook, Google for Revenue

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The US Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to approve a bill aimed at allowing news organizations to band together to negotiate with Alphabet’s Google and Meta’s Facebook and win more revenue.

The bill passed the committee by a vote of 15 to 7, according to a congressional aide. It must now go to the Senate for their approval. A similar bill is before the US House of Representatives.

The bill is aimed at giving news and broadcast organisations more clout after years of criticism that big tech companies use their content to attract traffic and ad revenue without fairly compensating the publishers, many of which struggle financially.

The bill, led by Democrat Amy Klobuchar, attracted some Republican support, with Senators John Kennedy and Lindsey Graham sponsoring it. Other Democrats, like Senator Alex Padilla, expressed reservations about it.

The bill hit a speed bump earlier this month when Senator Ted Cruz won backing for a plan to include provisions to address what he considers the platforms stifling conservative voices.

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On Thursday Klobuchar won support for an amendment that specified that prices for use of content was the issue.

“The goal of the bill is to allow local news organisations to get compensation when major titans, monopolies like Facebook and Google, access their content,” she said at a committee session to vote on the bill.

Unlike other bills aimed at reining in big tech, some progressive groups oppose this measure, including Public Knowledge, on the grounds that it favors big broadcasters like News Corp, Sinclair, and Comcast/NBCU.

Also opposing the bill are two technology industry trade groups that Facebook and Google belong to: the Computer & Communications Industry Association and NetChoice.

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© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Buying an affordable 5G smartphone today usually means you will end up paying a “5G tax”. What does that mean for those looking to get access to 5G networks as soon as they launch? Find out on this week’s episode. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.

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WhatsApp Working to Keep Iranians Connected Amid Widespread Internet Shutdown Over Nationwide Protests

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Meta Platforms’ WhatsApp said on Thursday that it was working to keep users in Iran connected after the country restricted access to the app and social media platform Instagram.

WhatsApp “will do anything” within its technical capacity to keep the service accessible and that it was not blocking Iranian phone numbers, the messaging service said in a tweet.

We exist to connect the world privately. We stand with the rights of people to access private messaging. We are not blocking Iranian numbers. We are working to keep our Iranian friends connected and will do anything within our technical capacity to keep our service up and running

— WhatsApp (@WhatsApp) September 22, 2022

Iran on Wednesday restricted access to Instagram and WhatsApp, two of the last remaining social networks in the country, amid protests over the death of a woman in police custody, according to residents and internet watchdog NetBlocks.

Last week’s death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by morality police in Tehran for “unsuitable attire”, has unleashed anger over issues including freedom in the Islamic Republic and an economy reeling from sanctions.

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Protesters in Tehran and other Iranian cities torched police stations and vehicles earlier on Thursday as public outrage over the death showed no signs of abating, with reports of security forces coming under attack.

On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that the country had imposed a near-total Internet blackout on Wednesday on the fifth day of protests against the government over Amini’s death, after she was held by the country’s morality police for allegedly violating its strictly-enforced dress code.

Previously, a government official had hinted that security concerns might prompt measures to restrict internet access. As previously mentioned, Instagram and WhatsApp were the last major social media networks operating in Iran.

The country currently blocks Facebook, Telegram, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and WhatsApp. However, top Iranian officials have access to public accounts on these platforms, while Iranians are able to access these services using virtual private networks and proxies, according to the report.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Buying an affordable 5G smartphone today usually means you will end up paying a “5G tax”. What does that mean for those looking to get access to 5G networks as soon as they launch? Find out on this week’s episode. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.

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Facebook Whistleblower Frances Haugen Launches ‘Beyond the Screen’ Organisation to Tackle Social Media Harms

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Whistleblower Frances Haugen – a former Facebook engineer who leaked documents suggesting the firm put profits before safety – on Thursday launched an organisation devoted to fighting harm caused by social media.

The new Beyond the Screen nonprofit said that its first project will be to document ways big tech is failing in its “legal and ethical obligations to society” and help come up with ways to solve those problems.

“We can have social media that brings out the best in us, and that’s what Beyond the Screen is working toward,” Haugen said in a statement.

“Beyond the Screen will focus on tangible solutions to help users gain control of our social media experience.”

Haugen last year leaked reams of internal studies showing executives knew of their site’s potential for harm, prompting a renewed US push for regulation.

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Haugen contended the tech titan, which has since rebranded itself as Meta, put profits over safety. Meta has fought back against the accusation.

Haugen’s nonprofit said it will collaborate with groups including Common Sense Media and Project Liberty that share a “commitment to supporting healthier social media.”

Beyond the Screen’s first project “represents a bold, inclusive, and much-needed effort to drive a seismic shift in how social media operates,” Project Liberty founder Frank McCourt said, according to Beyond the Screen’s statement.

“We look forward to working with Frances and her team to launch this new initiative and advance our shared goal of enabling healthier digital communities and stopping harmful business models.”

Since leaving Facebook in 2021, Haugen has advocated in the US and other countries for legislation meant to make social media platforms safer, particularly for young people.

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Buying an affordable 5G smartphone today usually means you will end up paying a “5G tax”. What does that mean for those looking to get access to 5G networks as soon as they launch? Find out on this week’s episode. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.

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