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Google CEO writes to MeitY defending cross-border data transfer: Report

Google CEO Sundar Pichai has written a letter to the Indian IT Ministry arguing in favour of allowing cross-border data transfer, PTI reports.

Interestingly, Rajan Anandan, Google VP of India and Southeast Asia, had told the Economic Times in May that the company would comply with any data localisation law that India comes up with.

In response to a query by MediaNama, Google pointed to the company’s statement about reports that the company had agreed to follow payments data localisation norms: “We maintain that Cross border data flows today are ubiquitous and an essential phenomenon for global economic activity and universal access to information. Soaring data flows generate more economic value and hence the socio-economic impact of restricting data flows must be thoroughly considered while framing any policy. There is a need to find practical and contemporary solutions to policy issues in line with global best practices. we have nothing to add at this point of time.”

Pichai’s letter comes just as the IT Ministry is currently holding a public consultation on the Srikrishna committee’s draft Personal Data Protection Bill. This bill places some restrictions on what personal data can leave the country. That draft also requires all companies to keep a ‘serving copy’ of all Indian user data in data centres within the country.

The letter has not been made public, and MediaNama has reached out to MeitY for a copy. It’s unclear if the letter was in response to MeitY’s ongoing consultation on the draft bill, or was sent separately. Google recently hosted the IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in an official trip he took to Google HQ in Silicon Valley.

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Localising data will be a huge undertaking for Google, which would have to build troves of data centres in India to satisfy the requirements of the draft bill. Limits on what data can leave the country will also have an effect on the company’s activities. ‘Application architectures and data storage used by internet companies is extremely complex. Localisation may require full re-architecture of that data,’ the Cloud Computing Innovation Council of India’s Vikas Mathur said recently at a MediaNama discussion. That may be especially true for Google, which has several layers of products and services in all countries for users and businesses, all of which probably guzzle a huge amount of data stored around the world.

The company may soon be launching a censored version of its search engine to China, from where the company pulled out in 2010. While some employees pushed back against the move, a top executive at Google’s parent asked in an interview if China having limited access to Google was better than the country having no access to it at all.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

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