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Vijay Shekhar Sharma on Chinese shareholding, American companies, govt regulation, and data protection

At an online discussion on Tuesday, Paytm CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma defended the shareholding of  Chinese companies in his company, while also attacking the dominance of American companies in India.

When questioned by the stake of Chinese companies in Paytm by Indian Express’s Anant Goenka, Sharma said that all of Paytm runs its own software technology platforms and “no shareholder has a say on what we should do” and that “all shareholders are treated as commercial shareholders”. Board seats and control are in India’s hands, he said, and further, Paytm has shareholders from Japan and the US. 

Goenka and Sharma were in conversation at IAMAI’s India Digital Summit. “Any country that meddles with our functionality should be treated with strong hands. We must not let anyone take advantage of us, east or west,” Sharma said. 

Key takeaways from Sharma’s interaction

  • India framing a data protection law shows the technology industry is coming into the mainstream
  • Paytm’s China shareholders do not impact its operations. Board seats and control are in India’s hands, Sharma claims
  • Indians’ data should remain within the country, since it can be subject to exploitation otherwise

On data protection

When asked about his views on the upcoming data protection law, Sharma said that regulators and governments are followers by design, and regulations follow innovation at scale. “The government’s arrival shows that the technology industry is becoming mainstream. Indian citizens’ data is becoming mainstream and in just three years,” Sharma said. He also batted for “Indian citizens’ data to remain within the country” and for everything processed outside to be brought back into this country. 

According to Sharma, Android is the “most porous operating system in the world, in the name of ‘openness’, it allows anybody to install an app and take so much of data back home”. “And what it is being used of abused for, there is no control, because it has a commercial company control,” he said. 

On American tech dominance in India

Anant Goenka asked Sharma his views about the fact that the “rules of the game” in the digital world are being set largely by a few companies out of Silicon Valley.

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A challenger has to come, and call a spade a spade […] Somebody is today taking 30% of the digital revenue of this country to another country, I can tell you — the governments will wake up! Today it is a small economy of couple of billion dollars. If it becomes worth tens or hundreds of billion dollars, the government will intervene. India’s internet economy is coming to the mainstream size, where companies, industries, governments, and regulators will be concerned.

“US companies, in a very surprising way, have become the ones who are going to different countries and creating markets and pockets of markets. The governments that let it remain so will not have any commercial or economic wealth remaining in the country; those will be going out.” — Vijay Shekhar Sharma, CEO, Paytm

Read: Indian startup founders gear up to take on Google’s Play Store policies

On government regulation of technology industry

When asked how much the government should intervene in internet businesses, Sharma spoke about American dominance again. If a digital internet company does not follow India’s laws, then the government will certainly come forward, he said.

This is not a technology business, it is the business of this country. That is why the government comes [to regulate the sector] or will come. If somebody makes a WhatsApp call to you, and says things that something you should not have heard or should be traced, the law of the land has no control over it, they can’t trace it” — Vijay Shekhar Sharma, CEO, Paytm

Government regulation in the technology industry is therefore inevitable, he said. When asked about government regulations coming in, such as the 30% cap on UPI payments imposed by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), Sharma said that “no government has put 30% cap on market share, neither in India nor anywhere else”.

Instead, a company that runs a platform “has decided that my platform will not have only two players – wherein everybody has left and only two companies remain and I am the supplier of technology for the two companies. That is why they have created that at least I will have three players by capping it to 30%,” he said. “It has nothing to do with government, there is absolutely nothing government about it,” he said. 

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