Ed. Note.: This post, by Sayan Bhattacharya, is a part of the NALSAR Tech Law Forum Editorial Test 2016.
In the world of technology dominated by a power struggle in terms of presence and absence in data circles, Reliance Jio has probably made the biggest tech news of the year with its revolutionary schemes. By adopting a loss-leader strategy of immediate loss and ultimate dominance, Reliance Jio has promised its subscribers stellar features like free voice calls, extremely cheap data packages, abolition of national roaming charges and striking down extra rates on national holidays on shifting to its network. This is set to significantly affect competition by taking India’s data scenario from a data scarcity to data abundance mode.
Tech companies were hesitant to hand over consumers too much data till this point since they believed the same would act contrary to their business interests. So intra tech-company competition existed within set boundaries till now.
A long standing argument has been in terms of data inequality, wherein people living in rural areas are greatly disadvantaged due to absence of accessibility to data, presence of high tariffs and lack of initiative. This marked shift is significantly going to affect this particular section of society. The arrival of data-abundance schemes of Reliance Jio might trigger of the kind of competition needed to make internet more accessible and solve the divide existing in status quo.
The second shift which is less talked about in the classy launch statements is the treatment of these immense amount of data which will be at their disposal, post such a move. The markets in United States and Europe have been relatively normalised to the idea of data abundance for tech companies in comparison to Indian markets. There also exists a subsequent system of checks and balances placed in the judiciary of these markets to control ethics of data collection like specific privacy laws, special courts, media and NGO sensitisation of existing problems with data collection. Such specific laws and structure is almost non-existent or minimally present in the India which makes such problems harder to deal with.
This article seeks to answer the implications of such a move in terms of privacy of consumer data, regulatory mechanisms and its subsequent impact on the market.
The major transition when a user shifts from a conventional network to that of a Reliance Jio is in the shift from conventional calling facilities to data calling, wherein Reliance Jio uses a technology called VoLTE to make data calls. This technology is being introduced for the first time here but is already prevalent in European and US markets . These features are different from those available on social media platforms like WhatsApp which have exclusive privacy policies including checks and balances preventing breach of privacy like end-to-end encryptions.
Consequently huge amount of data will now be floating in terms of data calls and concern is over a third party monitoring private calls. In the world of data, the flow of data is monitored using a technique known as Deep Packet Inspection, which is a form of computer network packet filtering that examines the data part in terms of a packet as it passes an inspection point, searching for protocol non-compliance,viruses, spam, intrusions, Apart from the legitimate inspections, its critique comes in the form of a third party inspection of data which can be grossly misused in terms of:-
- Data Snooping and Eavesdropping
- Data Mining – The ethics of digging up history of searches in order to use data for unfair advantage of parent companies. The problem with this kind of data history existing is surrounding the fact that algorithms instead of predicting future searches tends to show same results in order to orient users to preferential data. This becomes extremely problematic when it comes to Reliance Jio which aims at achieving a closed ecosystem through its applications thus exploiting net neutrality laws. This was debated extensively in the application of Free Basics of Facebook in which Reliance Jio was a stakeholder.
- Internet Censorship – Government intervention to control the flow of data is another concern. In this regard we are essentially concerned with silent monitoring of data to serve government propaganda in order to define what is viewable and what is not.
Further, Reliance Jio tries to incorporate an app ecosystem which comes as a part and parcel with the package which includes JioTV app, a JioCinema app, a JioMusic app, a personal digital wallet, JioMags and a Newspaper application. The extensive push for a relatively close ecosystem might lead to exploitation of loopholes in Indian net neutrality laws, thus working to a disadvantage for third party. Data Mining techniques might even be used in this regard to identify customer patterns to suit needs of parent company in absence of a strict system of checks and balances as present in countries which have adopted this technology.
Reliance Jio network has worked relatively well insofar as Reliance to Reliance calls are concerned. But when it comes to calls to another operator there have been significantly high cases of call drops reported. Thus promising features intended to incentivise a switch to Reliance Jio network suffers a major roadblock in terms of implementation.
In light of the arguments presented, the shift that has been triggered by Reliance Jio needs an effective system of checks and balances in terms of regulatory measures to ensure the following:-
- Maintenance of principles of net-neutrality
- Protection of private consumer data
- Prevention of privacy breaches
- Consumer protection in terms of reducing call drops to other operators
- Prevention of unfair trade practices in terms of data mining to suit needs of parent company