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Keeping Big Tech in check

GS Paper 3

Syllabus: Science and Technology/ Internal Security/Governance


Source: Indian Express

Context: US and India are looking to remove special protection available to social media platforms, called ‘safe harbour’.

What is ‘Safe Harbour’?

In the US, social media companies enjoy special protection under US’ the Communications Decency Act (CDA). It is similar to Section 79 of India’s Information Technology Act, 2000, (IT Act) which classifies social media platforms as intermediaries and broadly shields them from legal action based on content users post on their platform.

Both these regulations offer social media platforms something called ‘safe harbour’.


Rationale behind ‘safe harbour’?

Since platforms cannot control at the first instance what users post on their site, they should not be held legally liable for any objectionable content they host as long as they agree to take such content down when flagged by the government or various courts.

Although tech platforms can help keep us connected, create a vibrant marketplace of ideas, and open up new opportunities for bringing products and services to market, they can also divide us and wreak serious real-world harms

Need for regulations:

  • A small number of dominant Internet platforms use their power to “exclude market entrants, to engage in rent-seeking, and to gather intimate personal information that they can use for their own advantage
  • The platforms are currently shielded from being held liable and lack adequate incentive to reasonably address issues such as child sexual exploitation, cyberstalking, and the non-consensual distribution of intimate images of adults.

Key principles to keep the power of social media in check (by the US):

  • Enhance Competition
  • Maintain privacy
  • Care for youth mental health
  • Discourage misinformation and disinformation
  • Ban illegal and abusive conduct, including sexual exploitation;
  • Correct algorithmic discrimination
  • Encourage transparency
  • Bring ‘greater accountability’

Other Solution:

  • Set clear limits on their ability to collect, use, transfer, and maintain our personal data
  • Limits on targeted advertising.

Steps taken: 

India: India had notified extensive changes to Information Technology Rules, 2021 (IT Rules):

  • Creation of government-backed grievance appellate committees which would have the authority to review and revoke content moderation decisions taken by platforms.
  • Social media platforms to appoint key personnel to handle law enforcement requests and user grievances
  • Enabling identification of the first originator of the information on its platform under certain conditions
  • India is looking for a complete overhaul of its technology policies and is expected to soon come out with a replacement of its IT Act, 2000, which will look at ensuring net neutrality, data privacy, and algorithmic accountability of social media platforms.

However, Social media companies have objected to some of the provisions in the IT Rules, as it will dilute the encryption security on its platform and could compromise the personal messages of millions of Indians.


Insta Links

Social Media and Law of Land


Mains links

Q. This is an important topic for those giving Mains this time. Do keep a note on it. Relate it with the Right to Free speech Vs State surveillance.

 Q. Social media needs regulations but not to the extent that it is difficult for them to do business in India. Comment