Give data access to consumers, not companies, says Nandan Nilekani

Nandan Nilekani
The government should create a policy that gives consumers access to the data they create while using digital services, rather than allowing entities build data silos for their own benefit, says Nandan Nilekani.

The former chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India said India would be able to ensure privacy, keep data colonisation at bay and boost competitiveness by inverting the control of data away from entities to the individuals producing these.

“Every second, three more Indians are experiencing internet for the first time (and) is getting headlocked into a digital era at a pace never seen before... But how do you convert this data in such a way that it benefits everybody? That’s a strategic question,” said Nilekani, at an event in Bengaluru on Wednesday.

Taking a view that India was starkly different from the West when it comes to digitisation, Nilekani said India should not merely follow what the western world is doing in terms of framing policies. People were already richer in the West when smartphones began making inroads a decade ago. “The West was economically rich before it was data rich. If you say the data-rich era began 15 years back and accelerated 10 years back with the smartphone, you already had a society with a per capita income of $40,000,” he said.

Moreover, consumers will have the freedom to take their data to the service that offers them the greatest benefit, be it for financial services such as loans or something as simple as their social chat on networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.

India has an ad spend of just $10 billion for more than a billion people. Businesses and services built on an advertising model will limit the reach to no more than 50 million people. The advertising model works best in countries where people are already rich, he said.

“If people are data rich before they are economically rich, can we flip the argument and say, since the person has so much data about himself, can he use that data to empower himself and improve his life? So, fundamentally, we need to rethink the model of how data should be used in the Indian context,” added Nilekani.

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