The weekly news magazine, Outlook carried a cover page story on Google’s growing influence in India and questions whether we should worry about the company’s influence? The article gives a list of initiatives funded by Google. Some of these were well known, like the Parliamentary Research Service (now re-named IPRS). Others like the Hoot and the Centre for Communication Governance at the National Law University in New Delhi certainly came as news to me.
The Hoot is an excellent media watchdog website (although I think even they could use a redesign of their website) and Google is apparently funding its free-speech initiatives. The Centre for Communication Governance, run by Chinmayi Arun, is a relatively new initiative and as the name suggests, it will be focussing on Communication Governance. The Centre runs a good blog which can be accessed over here. The entire list of recipients can be read in the Outlook story.
If anybody looks good in this story, it is the Public Policy team of Google – you have to admit that these guys have strategically placed Google in all possible forums that have the slightest possibility of contributing to the internet policy debate in India.
So, should we worry about Google’s increasing influence in India?
As one of the most important internet companies in the world and in India, I think Google certainly has the right to be doing whatever it is doing. It is the responsibility of those receiving money from Google, to be transparent about their funding and ensuring a commitment to academic objectivity in their research activities. These recipients will be judged by the kind of research and the stand that they take on issues which may not be in Google’s interest. For example, network neutrality. There are several different version of the network neutrality debate out there and only some of them are in the commercial interests of Google and unlike the company’s free speech initiatives, its stand on network neutrality is not likely to be in public interest.
The same stands true for the privacy debate – Google’s interests are hardly in line with public interest.