India can create data democracy that gives control to people: Nilekani

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Delivering the sixth C K Prahlad memorial lecture, the architect of the Aadhaar system said there is a need for not just data protection but also the creation of data democracy in India so that control of their data can be handed to the people, Nilekani said

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In a world where data is an increasingly vital resource, firms and agencies that make the first move end up having a monopoly over it, the former chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Nandan Nilekani said on Tuesday. Delivering the sixth C K Prahlad memorial lecture, the architect of the Aadhaar system said there is a need for not just data protection but also the creation of data democracy in India so that control of their data can be handed to the people, Nilekani said.  Speaking on the subject — “Does the data explosion give India a strategic opportunity?” — at the lecture organised by the CII, Nilekani said that “one of the attributes of this data world is that it has a winner-take-all model where the guy with the most data wins’’. “When an organisation has a lot of data it is very difficult for a new organisation to come in and get millions of people to shift to the new platform,’’ he added.

“In the US digital advertisements are dominated by two companies — Google and Facebook. They have captured 71 per cent of the digital advertising market. China’s mobile payment systems which are the most advanced in the world are dominated by two companies — Alipay and WeChat. Both these own 93 per cent of the payments market in China,’’ Nilekani said while citing examples of firms which have managed to establish market dominance.  India is in a position of creating policy that inverts the power of data and hands it to people to empower them on account of the data emerging at lightning speed around the Aadhaar, GSTN and Bhim infrastructure that has been put in place, the former UIDAI chairman said.

“India has the advantage that if people have data then we can have business models where people can use the data for their future’’ like obtaining credit, skills or education and will be able to overcome the issue of knowledge asymmetry that would exist otherwise, Nilekani said. “If you invert data and give it in the hands of people you can overcome knowledge asymmetry. Data can be the engine for improvement of the economy for people to get a better life.’’

“Data is empowering. We can have a data democracy where people have a right to their own data to improve their lives. Government should unlock public data so people have access to their own data,’’ Nilekani said. A law for data protection is also needed and the current group looking at this under Justice Srikishna will hopefully look at the empowerment aspect of data because “data protection focussed on seeing how governments and companies do not misuse data is a defensive argument’’ and the “argument must be based on how people use data for their own future,’’ he said.

The issue of data democracy goes beyond privacy issues is about enabling people to use data for their own ends, he said. “The fact of the matter is that we are entering a world that is increasingly digital where everybody is going to have phones, a world that is digitally heavy, and we have to figure out how to make things secure and there is no choice. We should also put in place the appropriate privacy infrastructure,’’ Nilekani said.

 

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