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WhatsApp Case Proves India Needs Strong Data Protection Law: Expert

The RBI guidelines say that all digital payment firms like Google Pay, WhatsApp and others must store data locally for their businesses

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FILE - The WhatsApp app logo is seen on a smartphone in this picture illustration. VOA

As the Indian government steps up the pressure on Internet and social media giants to store consumers’ data locally — especially the payments-related data — the road ahead is not easy for over one billion citizens as Internet giants have lobbied against the data protection law in the country for long, says the man who has taken the Facebook-owned WhatsApp to the court.

Reacting to an ET report that WhatsApp has set up data storage facilities in India for its soon-to-be-launched Payments service, advocate Virag Gupta said on Thursday that the truth would only come out on July 17 when the Supreme Court takes up the next hearing in the NGO’s plea against WhatsApp.

“I do not know whether there is any truth here. Internet giants have lobbied against data protection laws for long. Right noises are also being made at the G-20 and World Economic Forum but why should the sovereign Parliament wait? India should promptly enact data protection law and notify IT Intermediary Rules,” Gupta told IANS.

“In addition, Internet giants ought to comply with the Indian laws, including the appointment of Grievance Officer in India and data localisation,” added Gupta who represents Centre for Accountability and Systemic Change (CASC) which says WhatsApp has not complied with the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) circular on data localisation norms.

In the last hearing on May 3, WhatsApp told the Supreme Court that the company is conducting a trial run of its payment service and will fully comply with the RBI norms on data localisation.

WhatsApp conducted the Payments trial last year with almost 1 million people to send money to each other in a simple and secure way.

“In response to India’s payments data circular, we’ve built a system that stores payments-related data locally in India,” a WhatsApp spokesperson has earlier told IANS.

With over 200 million users, India is the largest market for WhatsApp.

“WhatsApp payment is useful for people in their daily lives and we hope to expand the feature to all of India soon so we can contribute to the country’s financial inclusion goals,” the spokesperson added.

According to Gupta who represented RSS ideologue KN Govindacharya before the Delhi High Court in 2012, Internet companies make huge money out of selling consumers’ data.

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WhatsApp on a smartphone device. Pixabay

“Sadly, few Indians are concerned over data misuse. Overall, data is the new oil wherein India despite its biggest user base, hardly gets any value out of it. This is primarily because the internet giants are not taxed properly in India,” said Gupta who has just released a new book titled “Taxing Internet Giants: American Companies & Data Protection in India”.

“The top 15 Internet companies alone have amassed a value of over Rs 20 lakh crore due to their Indian users. The companies’ value could be a major chunk of the Indian economy but is serving no purpose to Indians,” he lamented.

On June 14, Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeiTy) has finalised the much-anticipated Personal Data Protection Bill and the next required step is a Cabinet approval before the Bill goes to the Parliament.

“We have finalised the data protection law. I will take it to the Cabinet. We have had 3-4 rounds of consultation,” Prasad said while addressing the CII’s National Council meeting in the Capital.

Emphasising on data security and the country’s hold over its data, the Minister said: “India will uphold its data sovereignty. It will not be negotiable. India is a huge country producing a lot of data.”

Also Read: Facebook to Provide Users Details on How it Makes Money

With the government saying it will not relax the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) norms for data localisation, the road ahead has become tough for global digital payment providers who have sought more time to comply with the guidelines.

The RBI guidelines say that all digital payment firms like Google Pay, WhatsApp and others must store data locally for their businesses.

“The entire payment data shall be stored in systems located only in India. The data should include end-to-end transaction details and information pertaining to payment or settlement transaction that is gathered / transmitted/processed as part of a payment message/instruction,” say RBI guidelines. (IANS)

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Developers Can Now Start Building Hindi Skills for Alexa in India

Right now, Alexa can understand some Hinglish commands but these are few and far between

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Amazon Echo led the Indian smart speakers market with 59 per cent share in 2018 (Representational image). Pixabay

Amazon on Tuesday announced that developers can now start building Alexa skills for customers in India with the new Hindi voice model available in Alexa Skills Kit (ASK).

Developers would get a headstart and submit skills for certification as the company prepare to offer engaging experiences for Alexa users in one of the most spoken languages in the country, the company said in a statement.

Commercial hardware manufacturers who want to develop Alexa Built-in products for Hindi-speaking customers in India can request early access to the invite-only Alexa Voice Service (AVS) developer preview.

The Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) is a collection of free, self-service APIs and tools that make it fast and easy for developers to create skills, or capabilities, for Alexa.

Amazon last year launched a new category of skill called “Cleo” that enables customers in India help Alexa learn Hindi and other languages. The idea was to improve Alexa’s language model and help her gradually speak in local languages.

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The lawsuit alleges Amazon of saving ‘voice prints’ of millions of children by unlawfully recording their conversations around Alexa-enabled smart devices. Pixabay

Apart from Hindi, users can respond to Alexa’s English statements in Tamil, Marathi, Kannada, Bengali, Telugu, Gujarati and other regional languages.

Alexa is currently available in over 80 countries and speaks more than 14 language variants.

One can sign up for the first webinar on Hindi skill building scheduled on July 24. Developers in India who have their Hindi-language skill certified for publication in India before July 31 would receive exclusive early bird Alexa merchandise.

Also Read: How to Speed up Torrent? Find it out Here

Rohit Prasad, Vice President and Head Scientist for Alexa, told IANS recently that the company is working on infusing regional languages capabilities in Alexa for the Indian market but these are early days.

Right now, Alexa can understand some Hinglish commands but these are few and far between. (IANS)