Recently, India has proposed a new law, the Digital Competition Bill, 2024, that could stop digital tech giants from self-preferencing their own services.

Key Features of the Draft Bill:

  • The Digital Competition Bill, of 2024, aims to prevent anti-competitive actions by setting upfront rules and imposing significant fines, potentially in the billions of dollars, for any breaches. 
  • The draft bill proposes a proactive approach to competition regulation, focusing on preventing anti-competitive practices before they occur. 
  • This differs from India’s current ex-post system (Competition Act, 2002), which investigates violations after they happen. 
  • The bill also introduces the concept of “Systematically Significant Digital Enterprises (SSDEs).” 
  • The Competition Commission of India (CCI) will designate companies offering core digital services like search engines or social media as SSDEs based on factors like user base and market influence.
  • SSDEs will face certain restrictions, such as a prohibition on self-preferencing their own services over competitors. 
  • The bill further proposes designating “Associate Digital Enterprises (ADEs)” to address concerns about information sharing within large tech groups. 
  • Both SSDEs and ADEs will be subject to regulations.
  • The Bill is largely inspired by the EU’s Digital Market Act (DMA), which was enacted earlier this year.

Systematically Significant Digital Enterprises (SSDEs): 

These are large digital platforms or enterprises that have significant impact on the digital economy and society due to their size, reach, and influence.

  • Examples: Major technology companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft etc.

Associate Digital Enterprises (ADEs): 

These are digital enterprises that play a significant role in the digital economy but are not as large or influential as SSDEs.

  • Examples: Medium-sized e-commerce platforms, Niche social media networks, etc.

Importance of Digital competition law:

  • A proactive approach is necessary to address the documented history of anti-competitive behavior by large tech companies. 
  • They also point out that innovation in the digital space has been largely driven by a few major companies. 
  • A level playing field fostered by this law could encourage innovation and growth among smaller players.
  • For example, smaller online products like Signal and DuckDuckGo offer niche features, catering to users interested in specific functionalities like privacy.

Criticism and concerns:

  • The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) has raised concerns about the bill’s potential impact on businesses. 
  • They argue that the proactive approach could lead to unnecessary compliance burdens. 
  • Additionally, there are concerns about the criteria used to designate SSDEs, with some claiming they are too subjective and might discourage startups from scaling up.
  • The Esya Centre, a technology think tank, expresses concern that the draft bill could negatively impact micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) by overlooking the potential benefits of collaboration between these businesses and digital platforms. 
  • They argue that overly stringent regulations could hinder efficiency gains.
  • The Indian government is currently seeking feedback on the draft bill. 
  • Finding a balance between promoting fair competition and encouraging innovation will be crucial as India navigates this complex digital landscape.

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