Image Courtesy: CNBC TV18

The oft-repeated term “tech-giant”, typically used to describe a number of Fourth Industrial Revolution establishments, bears closer inspection. Are these corporate organisations giants in the sense of a) their ubiquitous presence?  b)their ability to proliferate rapidly?  c) their permanence or d) their significant socio-economic and environmental footprint?

Nandan Nilekani, the head of Infosys, and the creative mind behind the Aadhar and the UPI services has taken up a new enterprise namely the Open Network for Digital Commerce  (ONDC) [1,3] with the specific goal of providing an alternative to the increasingly predatory practices of online shopping portals such as Amazon and Walmart owned Flipkart.

The vast range of products and enormous discounts offered at these sites is a  great hit  among the customers. However, the downside, motivating Nilekani’s latest venture, is the steady elimination of small businesses around the country, from the Kirana to the “Kaka Angadi” (a cross cultural marriage of the Keralite Kaka and the Karnataka Angadi), from the fabric seller to the local darzi, to the ubiquitous repair-walas who support environment friendly long term usage and play a key role in helping the country meet its Sustainable Development Goals.

What is perhaps even more egregious is the recent finding by Reuters, that Amazon, a portal intended to support online businesses, has been applying its significant storage and energy resources to identify, duplicate and sell at a lower price, the most successful products of these businesses under its name, while rigging search results to direct customers to its own products.

Amazon is currently under investigation in the United States, member states of the European Union and India for the misuse of such proprietary data, referred to in Amazon’s internal documents, as “Tribal Knowledge”. Antitrust lawsuits (e.g. in the UK) and fines (e.g., by Italy), are welcome regulatory responses. However, given Amazon’s economic clout this could easily turn into an indefinitely drawn-out battle without a satisfactory end in sight.

Enter truly smart and genuinely big ideas, such as the ONDC, India’s alternative to Amazon. Sidestepping the vastly more challenging issue of legal culpability, Nilekani has forged ahead with a constructive solution in the form of an Indian online shopping portal to support a business economy across all grades, from micro to small, medium and large enterprises. In collaboration with the Government of India and backed by ICICI Bank, Punjab National Bank and State Bank of India, Nilekani’s attempt at an indigenous response to Amazon is a lighthouse in the murky brume of a monopolistic and ultimately unsustainable western tech industry (refer to earlier articles for a rundown on the staggering energy footprint of modern tech). Incidentally, it appears that Amazon is now seeking to understand how it might fit into the ONDC landscape.

Seeking conscientious autonomy from new age tech colonizers will help India secure its sovereignty.  And if there exists a relative paucity of power and manufacturing resources, well that simply ought to push academia and industries alike towards smarter innovation. Next stop:  An Indian answer to Facebook-Meta?

 


Monika Krishan, Senior Fellow

Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of the Centre for Public Policy Research.

 

+ posts

Dr Monika Krishan's academic background includes a Master’s in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA. Her research interests include image processing, psychovisual perception of textures, perception of animacy, goal based inference, perception of uncertainty and invariance detection in visual and non-visual domains. Areas of study also include the impact of artificial intelligence devices on human cognition from the developmental stages of the human brain, through adulthood, all the way through the aging process, and the resulting impact on the socio-cognitive health of society. She has worked on several projects on the cognitive aspects of the use and misuse of technology in social and antisocial contexts at SERC, IISc as well as the development of interactive graphics for Magnetic Resonance Imaging systems at Siemens. She is a member of Ohio University’s Consortium for the Advancement of Cognitive Science. She has offered services at economically challenged schools and hospitals for a number of years and continues to be an active community volunteer in the field of education and mental health

Dr Monika Krishan
Dr Monika Krishan
Dr Monika Krishan's academic background includes a Master’s in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA. Her research interests include image processing, psychovisual perception of textures, perception of animacy, goal based inference, perception of uncertainty and invariance detection in visual and non-visual domains. Areas of study also include the impact of artificial intelligence devices on human cognition from the developmental stages of the human brain, through adulthood, all the way through the aging process, and the resulting impact on the socio-cognitive health of society. She has worked on several projects on the cognitive aspects of the use and misuse of technology in social and antisocial contexts at SERC, IISc as well as the development of interactive graphics for Magnetic Resonance Imaging systems at Siemens. She is a member of Ohio University’s Consortium for the Advancement of Cognitive Science. She has offered services at economically challenged schools and hospitals for a number of years and continues to be an active community volunteer in the field of education and mental health
and

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *