The apex body governing India’s internet and mobile industry has witnessed a war of words between Indian and global companies
What happens when an apex industry association is thrust into a “them and us” situation where one segment, ostensibly representing the interest of Indian companies, accuses it of becoming a mouthpiece of global corporations? This is exactly what has been playing out at the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) for some weeks now.
When these accusations are made by the founders of such an organization, things get murkier as it did for Google’s Sanjay Gupta, VP and country manager, who was replaced as the IAMAI President by Harish Jain, co-founder and CEO of Dream Sports. Rajesh Magow of MakeMyTrip and Satyen Ganjwani of Times Internet took over as VP and Treasurer, a press statement said.
According to a report published by ET, the first salvo was fired by Bharat Matrimony’s Murugavel Janakiraman, MapMyIndia’s Rohan Verma and Shaadi.com’s Anupam Mittal, thus indicating a widening gap between the interests of local digital enterprises and the Big Tech companies such as Google and Facebook.
These leaders felt the likes of Gupta and Shivnath Thukral, who represents WhatsApp had no business helming the show of an Indian association. In fact, their demand for a change in leadership was accompanied by a threat to make the IAMAI persona non grata when it came to liaising with the government and other geographies.
Apex associations and vested interests
In the past, we have seen industry associations split vertically with one representing Indian businesses (FICCI) and the other articulating the concerns of multinationals (ASSOCHAM) with the likes of CII becoming an entity that represented both, at least on paper. There were instances where CII leaders had a public war of words in the 1990s over economic reforms.
Coming back to the IAMAI’s travails, which appears to be over for now or till the time the current incumbent president’s two-year term ends, burst forth when some of the leaders claimed that the association’s representations to the government around digital policies, regulations and laws were totally opposed to the Indian consumer’s interest.
Many of these leaders took to social media, ironically owned and operated by an individual who makes no bones about his own nationalistic perspectives, to air their views. While Verma castigated the association for going anti-ethical to India’s needs, Mittal was more forthright and said IAMAI had become a mouthpiece for Big Tech.
Is it anti-Big Tech or just anti-Google?
Things grew warmer when a group of domestic start-ups went against IAMAI’s draft paper on digital competition law, claiming that it was faithfully following the guidelines laid out by the Big Tech platforms. In fact, Google’s billing policies for app developers, which saw the Supreme Court come down heavily on the search giant, seems to be a moot issue.
Readers would recall that India’s antitrust body had passed two adverse orders following which Google had changed its Android mobile operating system’s rules, including one related to replacing the Google Play billing system to one that the user chooses. Indian app makers have argued that in spite of this order, Google charged commissions on non-Google payment modes.
Both the Competition Commission of India and the Madras High Court are hearing complaints around these aspects. Janakiraman doesn’t mince words when he says that IAMAI had been taken over by the Big Tech companies and when Google was playing around with Indian app developers, the apex body was conspicuously silent.
There’s already a rival body operating
The Bharat Matrimony founder is quite clear that India should have a separate law to rein in the Big Tech companies, the same way that other countries have. We had reported how Meta faced a formal suspension order from the European Union and a hefty fine of $1.3 billion for allegedly exporting data from the EU to the US for processing.
While Google’s billing may have sparked the latest fire, IAMAI has seen several of these in the past as well. In February, the online gaming companies had shot off a letter to the Union IT ministry opposing the views expressed by the association, on specific grounds that these appeared to favor the Big Tech firms led by Meta, Amazon and Google.
In fact, the formation of ADIF – Alliance of Digital Indian Foundation – was piloted by the likes of Paytm, MapMyIndia and others as an alternative to IAMAI. In fact, the case against Google on the billing was piloted by them. What the future holds would only be seen after how IAMAI now responds to challenges of digital hegemony by the big technology companies.