The joint parliamentary committee on personal data protection led by Bharatiya Janata Party MP Meenakshi Lekhi has asked Reliance Jio, Ola and Uber to explain whether they use equipment sourced from China, people familiar with the matter told HT.
The issue has been a recurring theme for the panel. Last week, Patym and Google were asked similar questions about their relationship with the neighbouring country.
The committee’s questions come amid tensions with China at the border, that rose after the death of 20 Indian soldiers and an unidentified number of Chinese soldiers in June.
The government has been cracking down on China’s electronic footprint in India, with over 200 mobile applications with links to the country banned. The government is also considering not letting Chinese companies, such as Huawei and ZTE that make up a substantial part of India’s telecom sector, participate in the upcoming 5G trials.
“Reliance Jio told the committee that they do not use any telecom equipment sourced from China,” said a person familiar with the matter. HT reached out to a representative from Jio but did not receive a response . “Reliance also said they’re fully equipped with the 5G technology.” said the first person,
The person quoted aboveadded that Jio was also asked if it shares data with internet giants Facebook and Google, investors in the nascent telecom start-up, as a contractual obligation.
Jio denied that there was any data sharing or harmonization with the companies. The panel has already met Facebook and Google to flag its concerns in terms of data sharing and privacy.
Data localisation is another key issue that has been flagged in the hearings. While Reliance Jio has made a push for setting up a data centre in India and ride-hailing company Ola has agreed with the same premise, people familiar with the matter said that global ride-hailing company Uber remained on the fence.
“India produces the largest amount of data but never benefits from it,” said a second person familiar with the matter. “Uber started out as an aggregator of cabs and is now a transport company, we need some check and balances.”
The person added that both the startups would respond in writing about whether they have Chinese investment and their data sharing policies.
“How does the AI that they use determine surge pricing,” said the person mentioned above. “Is it gender specific; do they harness the phone battery data to assess desperation levels? How exactly does this happen?”
The panel asked the three companies to share their AI models and source code. Reliance Jio and Ola were willing to comply, but Uber was hesitant, people familiar with the matter said.
“It is only in emergency situations where the government needs to intervene where we need access to the code,” said the second person. “If rights of drivers and customers have to be enforced, the details would be needed.”
The person added that non-personal data, if shared by the companies, could help the government make the streets more accessible and even control unforeseen situations like the pandemic. Non-personal data, however, has been a sore point with companies like Uber since the data is used to bolster revenue models and sharing it with the government would lead to substantial losses.
Panel chair Meenakshi Lekhi said that the push was consistently for transparency and accountability. “We are just asking the questions that need to be asked,” Lekhi told HT.
The panel is conducting hearings on the personal data protection bill.