The e-commerce giant has declined to depose before the Joint Committee of Parliament that is examining the draft Data Protection Bill.
Facebook India’s policy head Ankhi Das on Friday appeared before the Joint Committee of Parliament that is examining the draft Data Protection Bill. However, e-commerce giant Amazon declined to depose before the panel on October 28, stating that its “subjects experts” cannot take the risk of traveling from the U.S. during the coronavirus pandemic.
Stating that Amazon’s “refusal” amounts to a breach of parliamentary privilege, BJP MP and chairperson of the JPC, Meenakshi Lekhi, told reporters that the panel was unanimous about taking “coercive action” if no one from the company appears next Wednesday.
Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, Google and Paytm are among the companies from whom the committee has sought views on data security and protection amid concerns that the privacy of users is being “compromised” for commercial interest. The panel questioned Facebook India’s representatives, including Ms. Das, who has been in the eye of a storm over reports of alleged bias towards the BJP and refusal to apply hate speech rules to a BJP politician.
She was recently in the eye of a political storm after an investigative report in an international publication accused her of “bias towards the ruling BJP by refusing to apply the company’s hate speech rules to a BJP politician”.
The discussions within the JPC, however, were strictly confined to the Data Protection Bill.
Facebook India executives were asked whether they obtain the consent of its users before their data is shared with third parties, a source said.
“They told the panel that Facebook does sell data but arrived at inferences based on user behaviour. So, we asked them if they obtain the consent of the users even to do this,”a JPC member told The Hindu.
Members of the parliamentary panel, cutting across party lines, also asked the social media giant about its decision-making process, revenue model, method of paying taxes, advertisers and the process of choosing target audience for these advertisers, background verification of its users including the process to find out the age of a new user.
During the meeting, a member suggested FB India should not share ‘inferential data’ of its users for commercial benefits of its advertisers.
When FB India executives pointed out that some of the matters are sub judice, a senior Opposition MP is learnt to have said the Committee was examining a new law and was well within its remit to seek information related to it.
“We don’t buy such an arguments as the courts don’t make law. The JPC is an extension of Parliament and is helping in the process of making a new law,” another member of the panel said.
The 30-member joint committee, headed by Ms. Lekhi, includes senior members like Bhupender Yadav (BJP), Congress’ Jairam Ramesh, Manish Tewari, Trinamool’s Derek O Brien and Mahua Moitra, DMK’s Kanimozhi among others.
Next week, the JPC has summoned officials of social media platform Twitter as well as Google and Paytm for their views on data security.