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Meta has had a rocky history with the Indian government over the past decade, but regulators seem to have extended an olive branch to the tech giant. Using its position as the Chair of the Global Partnership for Artificial Intelligence, India has expressed its desire to collaborate with Meta as a trusted AI partner.
In exchange for this, the country will put forward regulations in the GPAI forum that will incentivise innovation in the artificial intelligence field. According to sources, these discussions took place during Meta policy chief Nick Clegg’s visit to India in November this year.
GPAI is a multi-nation initiative comprising of 29 member countries that focuses on regulating AI innovation. India is pushing for AI, it being one of their focal points as the President of the G20, with Meta’s actions playing an important role in fulfilling its AI goals.
On the interaction with Indian regulators, a Meta spokesperson said,
“We deeply appreciate the opportunity to discuss how Meta can work together with the government to achieve India’s techade goals. Since these were closed-door meetings, we will not be able to share more information at the moment.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has outlined his vision of making the next decade of policy innovation a ‘techade’. Under this vision, regulators will incentivise cutting-edge technology such as 5G, artificial intelligence, and digital services to connect 1.3 billion Indians.
Reportedly, Clegg and other decision-makers at Meta, had not considered India as a prime opportunity for AI Investments due to its data localisation history. However, with the eased data localization norms presented in the newly launched DPDP Bill, Meta has reconsidered AI investments in India.
Meta & Indian Government
Meta’s tryst with the Indian government began in 2019, when Mark Zuckerberg wrote a lengthy blog post on data localisation norms. In this blog, he stated that Meta has refrained from building localised data storage locations in countries, which have a “track record of violating human rights like privacy or free speech.” While he did not mention India specifically, his statements were released at a time where India was creating the first draft of its new data regulation policies.
The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018, and its subsequent amendments, caused a lot of hurt to tech companies. The Bill introduced stringent measures to store data locally, stating that ‘critical personal data’ of Indian citizens cannot leave the country. This meant that companies handling sensitive consumer data like Meta were required to store the data locally, as opposed to transferring it to their servers in the United States.
The tech giant has also worked closely with regulators to reach a middle ground on the stringent data localisation norms described in the Bill. As Meta’s business model relies heavily on targeted advertising, localising data in India would put many of their services at stake. Top executives at the company expressed their concerns over the Bill, such as Meta’s VP and deputy chief privacy officer Rob Sherman, who stated,“Depending on how [the Bill] is implemented, local storage provisions can make it difficult for us to provide services [in India]”.
During the height of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the Indian government approached Cambridge Analytica (CA) to ask if there had been a breach in the privacy of Indian users. During the same time, it had also approached Facebook. While CA denied having the data of any Indian citizens, Facebook informed the government that over 560,000 Indians’ data had been compromised.
Despite having issues with regulations in the past, Meta has set the precedent in working with the Indian government. This makes the upcoming collaboration between the two parties even more exciting.
Meta’s AI Investments
Facebook has been at the forefront of AI innovation over the past decade. Beginning in 2013 as Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research, the company’s in-house lab was rebranded as Meta AI in 2021. This lab has created many state-of-the-art algorithms in the field of facial recognition, personalised feed recommendation, self-supervised learning, generative adversarial networks, and more. It was behind PyTorch, one of the most-used machine learning frameworks in the world.
The partnership also comes after regulators eased data localisation norms for big tech companies with the latest draft of the data protection Bill. Under the DPDP Bill introduced last month, companies are allowed to transfer and store data overseas. This has opened the door for companies like Meta to work closely with both its users and regulators in India. The Indian government also stated that it would welcome an initiative from Meta’s end to hire more AI talent in India.
India has long been ignored when it comes to AI solutions created for its population despite its size. Meta has some of the largest databases in the world, and India is one of the tech giant’s biggest markets, with Facebook alone attracting over 329 million users in the country. Some of the models that Meta AI is currently working on, such as the No Language Left Behind initiative, can greatly benefit from the datasets that the Indian population can provide.
In conclusion, the time is ripe for both parties to truly innovate in the field of AI. India’s leadership of both the G20 and the GPAI is sure to pave the way for Meta to come up with unique AI-based solutions that fall under global regulations. Moreover, easing up on stringent regulations can also enable a deeper investment into India’s AI space, putting India close to the top when it comes to AI innovation.