Ola CEO Bhavish Aggarwal Calls for Stronger Data Residency Laws to Combat 'Techno-Colonialism'

Ola CEO Bhavish Aggarwal Calls for Stronger Data Residency Laws to Combat 'Techno-Colonialism'

A significant portion of the world’s digital data is generated in India. This data is dispatched to the global data centres and then re-routed to India after being processed into AI in exchange for monetary benefits. In this cycle, India gets to store only one-tenth of its original data. This is what Ola's Founder and CEO termed "techno-colonialism" in comparison with British colonialism, where British rulers used to import cotton from India and export cloths for the sake of profit.  

Ola CEO in his conversation with news agency ANI has raised the issue of data residency which is quite critical for India. He revealed, “only one-tenth of that (data) is stored in the country. Ninety percent is exported to global data centers, largely owned by big techs. It is processed into AI, brought back into India, and sold to us in dollars. Yes, it is exactly what happened 200 years ago with the East India Company.”

While highlighting the major concern of data exploitation by global giants compared with India’s condition during British rule in the 18th and 19th centuries, Mr Aggarwal exclaimed, "They used to export cotton and bring clothes from abroad. Now we're exporting data and bringing intelligence from abroad....Techno-colonialism. Techno-colonialism. I don't know whether this is a word or not, but... It's been done."

Ola's founder emphasized the need to build India’s own value system to take this up as a technology battle. He continued, "We as an Indian ecosystem need to realize that these battles are not legal battles. These are technology battles. And we have to build our own technology built on value systems of our own. For example, when I see the future of AI, we have a uniquely Indian idea called digital public infrastructure. UPI is an example of that. ONDC is an example of that." 

India is the producer of twenty percent of global data which is essential in creating AI, he kept on saying, "We produce 20 percent of the world's data. We also, as Indians, our strength in the world of AI...we are the largest population, and data is what creates intelligence in AI. So we should produce even more data because not only are we 20 percent of the world's population we're also young. Hence per capita data production is more."

In the realm of AI, data is the strength of a country, so the data should be affiliated with the creators as it is potential enough to create the largest possible intelligence. In this context, he said, "We put data on our social media. It's our IPR. It should be of the creator. And we have to encourage and nudge people to share data in a privacy-preserving way openly. India has the largest data, so we can bring a lot of data into the public domain... That can be used to create the largest intelligence possible."

"...we in India can create this paradigm, but we can only do it if all of society comes together. Companies like Krutrim need to exist for that. We need to evangelize this philosophy with stakeholders like the media, bureaucrats, etc. India will have to invest as a business ecosystem as government incentives etc. for a decade or two because we are very behind," concluded he.

AI chatbot needs data to be more intelligent and affluent. Hence, the inputs shared by Bhavish Aggarwal are significant as his latest venture Ola Krutrim the AI chatbot is currently released for users in beta mode. The chatbot has been designed to be comprehensive of 22 Indian languages while generating content in 10 Indian languages. The portal is available in Indian currency to make it more accessible. 

In this conversation, the issue of data residency is something that needs to be paid attention to. In Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) governs data transfer outside of EU and EEA, enhancing individual control over personal information. On the other hand, in India, the Digital Personal Data Protection Act  mandates that sensitive data should stay in India, although, under certain circumstances, it can be processed abroad. However, citing the criticality of data residency as per Bhavish Aggarwal's revelations, the current PDPB is not enough to protect against data exploitation. The Indian government needs to create a solid ground to put a stay on data dispatch and let Indian businesses leverage this and allow the country’s digital ecosystem to come up with more innovative solutions. 

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