Indian startups can lead way in privacy-focused networks: Omidyar India MD

Topics Roopa Kudva

Roopa Kudva | Photo: LinkedIn
Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm founded by entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar, recently released a report on Unlocking the potential of India’s Data Economy: Practices, Privacy and Governance, in partnership with Monitor Deloitte. Omidyar’s India MD, Roopa Kudva, spoke to Neha Alawadhi on the need for start-ups to focus on privacy as a part of their business strategy. Edited excerpts:

Why is Omidyar Network looking at understanding privacy?

We are tech-led investors, focused on social impact. Therefore, as technology-led investors we have always believed technology can be a force for massive positive impact in ways that were not possible earlier, thanks mainly to the mobile phone. It is enabling populations previously underserved, excluded or even disempowered to be easily reached by both businesses and governments. At the same time we also recognise technology can cause harm, both intended and unintended. These are being brought to light, globally and in India. Tech for good has to go hand in hand in what we call responsible tech. We are increasing our investment in responsible tech. 

There is a near data explosion with everything going digital. How do you ensure start-ups and new businesses follow good data practices?

What do we mean when we say good data practices? 

One, the whole digital world, in general, going even beyond data, should enable access and inclusion.  Second, it should ensure security of data and privacy of data.  Third, there should be user control. Also, if anyone is using my data, I should be able to consent to them using my data, and be informed in a manner that that I know and understand the implications. So, informed consent. 

Finally, there should be recourse in case of breach. The data protection bill, when it comes out, is expected to address all these issues. And also fair compensation for data, so (a user should know if) the gains that they are getting from sharing from pools of data about them proportionate to the risk that they're kind of facing.

And when you look at investing in start-ups or newer businesses, how what is the contours of the conversation that you have with them on privacy?

Privacy is a very new area, even for us. So as investors, we invest in early stage start-ups. So in the next couple of months, we’re going to start a whole series of what we are calling privacy clinics for start-ups, where the start-ups will come and attend. And these could be people that we have invested in or even those where we haven’t. The idea is to run this as a pilot and then start-ups can self assess themselves and prepare themselves for regulatory compliance to begin with, and eventually look at it as a source of competitive advantage. 

What are the biggest challenges you face with data privacy? Is all of this becoming mainstream?

One challenge is appreciation by the user. There’s inadequate appreciation by the users of the value of privacy, particularly when they are trading it off against the benefits that they see. The second thing is, to understand how this incentivises businesses. Five years ago, cyber security was not a boardroom conversation, but today, it is very much so. 

Why the need to understand privacy preparedness of businesses at all?

We need an Indian view, because a lot of views are largely western, China-centric, because of investment capital. But India is going to be one of the largest generators and producers of data. 

India and Indian start-ups have an opportunity to actually lead the way. Globally, Europe has done a lot of work and is ahead, but in rest of the world, everyone is pretty much trying to figure it out. There’s a real opportunity in India, and particularly since start-ups want to go global.




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