By Abeer Dahiya
An explanatory note:
Amidst the infernal tidings that the pandemic brings, Facebook has invested around 6 billion dollars into a heavily-indebted Indian telco. The special thing about this telco? It’s owned by Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man and a friend of PM Narendra Modi.
Facebook says the deal will help it expand its 400-million-strong Indian userbase, while Mr. Ambani has called for Indian data to be centralised within India, “like oil”. Either way, this deal spells bad news for the already-embattled cause of data privacy in India, a country with no legal basis for consumer privacy data protection laws.
Ambani’s telco, Jio, now enjoys the largest userbase of mobile phone users in the Indian telecoms market thanks to a guns-blazing market entry that involved handing out hundreds of millions of free data plans and alleged government collusion.
Meanwhile, Zuckerberg sees India as a potential site to create and operate an all-encompassing app for payments, social networking, and communications akin to China’s WeChat through its stake in Jio. Incidentally, Facebook was blocked from a similar enterprise in its Free Basics program by Indian regulators in 2016.
Whether the new ‘Indian WeChat’ will now be used equivalently as a surveillance tool to track dissent and monitor private communication is anyone’s guess.