google: Google to help India keeping a track of movement and traffic across public places

New Delhi: Earlier this month, search giant Google decided to help public health officials in India as well as other countries keep track of people movement in the wake of the Covid-19 virus outbreak.

The initiative, Google’s own, was done with a belief that “open data can benefit the world at large”, its chief privacy officer told ET.

It was undertaken through Covid-19 Community Mobility Reports which capture the percentage change in traffic and movement across public places such as parks, transit stations and grocery stores.

This was done even while “upholding the privacy and security” of its users, Keith Enright said in an exclusive interview.

Enright said Google has urged policymakers to keep sharing of such anonymous data with the governments “voluntary”, so as to maintain user privacy and the intellectual property rights of organisations.

Mountain View, California-based Enright’s concerns also stem from a provision in India’s draft data protection Bill which makes it mandatory for companies to share public, community and anonymous data of users with the government in return for a fee.

“We urge policymakers to promote voluntary data sharing mechanisms with adequate privacy, intellectual property protections and business confidentiality safeguards,” Enright said.

The company supports regulations that provide strong privacy rights and protections, he added. “We welcome continued discussion with the government as the details of the framework are determined.”

Enright also expressed concern over some of the clauses in the Bill and proposed amendments to the IT intermediary guidelines that require social media companies to compulsorily verify the identity of users through their mobile numbers.

The identity verification requirement, while intended to provide strong protection to users, may have an “inverse” impact if they actually result in companies being compelled to collect more personal information in an effort to comply. “So, a requirement that was intended to advance privacy could have the ultimate effect of diminishing privacy. We want to make sure that policymakers understand those trade-offs,” he said.

Taking the case of the data protection Bill, currently being studied by a Joint Parliamentary Committee, Enright urged the government to come up with regulations that are interoperable and allow free flow of data, which can otherwise have the “unintended consequence of stifling innovation and creating a headwind to economic growth” within a given jurisdiction.

He is expected to directly engage with policymakers in India on these issues during his next visit to the country later this year.

Enright, who has been with Google for the last ten years, also said legal activity across the world on framing regulations has been unprecedented.

“In my 20-year career in privacy, I have never seen so much legal activity all over the world in terms of policymakers trying to balance the protection of privacy with other fundamental rights and freedoms like freedom of expression and freedom of access to information.”

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