Defending the telecom regulator’s decision to float a consultation paper on data ownership, Trai chairman RS Sharma on Thursday said that it is the right time to have such deliberations, when 90% of the data traffic on the internet is being controlled by a few firms.
Defending the telecom regulator’s decision to float a consultation paper on data ownership, Trai chairman RS Sharma on Thursday said that it is the right time to have such deliberations, when 90% of the data traffic on the internet is being controlled by a few firms. Without naming any company, the Trai chief said that “monopolisation” of data is taking place at a “huge” rate and it is the authority’s responsibility to ensure that the consumer is protected. Talking about the consultation paper during a chat session at the i-Bharat 2017 event organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Sharma said that in February 2016 Trai had banned the use of discriminatory pricing of data by telecom operators. “This decision was taken to ensure that the content and the pipe (telecom operator’s network) are really effectively separate and that decision benefited lot of these content companies in some sense. But, then let’s also understand that there is a huge amount of monopolisation that is happening and 90% of the data traffic on the internet is actually controlled by only a few companies,” he added.
Sharma stressed that there is a need to have such discussions about the ownership of data and issues like taxation. Speaking on consumer protection, he said, “There is a huge issue of bounded rationality, which means that user is aware of tomorrow or day after, but he or she is not aware of the long-term consequences on this data being in the hands of somebody else”. Bounded rationality signifies that when an individual makes a decision, his or her rationality is limited by the tractability of the decision, limitations of his or her mind and the time available to make such a decision. Trai said that the rationale for intervention is also on account of under-estimation by consumers about the value of their personal data and ignorance about the scale and use of data being collected. The ability of data collectors to unilaterally change their privacy policies also contributes to this asymmetry.
Sharma said, “Also in the name of privacy policies, many entities show that they are trying to protect users’ data, but actually these entities can use this data the way they want to use it. So Trai is not there to decide on the larger question of data ownership, data privacy and data security, but it certainly has the responsibility of customer protection and to decide these issues in the smaller domain of telecom.”He stressed that data today is being collected by a number of stakeholders and it is the duty of Trai to ensure the responsibility of these stakeholders. Speaking to reporters after the session, the Trai chairman said the regulator is working on a couple of consultations — net neutrality and regulatory principles of tariff assessment — and will be coming out with recommendations and regulations on them “very soon”.“It should happen within this financial year,” he noted.