Bill on mapping may make app-based services like Ola, AirBnB costlier
The government's plans to regulate data and images collected from the skies will put under scrutiny the use of Indian maps across millions of devices, potentially raising your bills on app-driven services such as taxis, travel portals and online marketplaces.
If implemented, the draft 'The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill 2016', released on Thursday for public consultation, will require companies such as Google and Apple to get a government license for offering map and navigation services in India.
The draft Bill, which triggered protests from internet activists, envisages stringent penalties for flouting rules including a fine of upto ₹100 crore and jail for up to seven years. It also proposes to restrict the use of real-time mapping of data.
The term geospatial refers to data and images associated with a particular location and collected through cameras on board satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), aircraft and balloons.
The government says the objective of the Bill is not to ban services that provide geospatial data but to regulate these for several reasons including securing the country's strategic installations from enemy eyes.
Many applications give a 360-degree view of important towns and cities around the world which, security agencies believe, could be used by terrorist groups to plan attacks without risking a recce mission.
Indian investigators who probed the 2008 Mumbai attack believe that Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists were shown their targets on apps such as Google Earth by their handlers prior to the strike. Such apps came under the scanner again after the terrorist attack on the Pathankot airbase in January.
Experts, however, said the move could affect a raft of companies including taxi aggregators Ola and Uber, courier and logistics companies, e-retailers, food apps that use digital maps to deliver products and services.
Private messaging services such as Whatsapp that offer location specific options can also get affected. Likewise, hotel room aggregators AirBnB and Oyo Rooms, which map out properties, will also have to make amends to their operations.
Twitter, Facebook and applications like Swiggy and Zomato which share location, could also come under the purview of the Bill along with property discovery sites like Housing.com, Magic Bricks and 99 Acres.
"Apart from Google and Apple, many apps use maps from Google for servicing its customers and if players like Google are made to pay extra then the cost will be indirectly passed on to the consumers," Kiran Jonnalagadda, founder of HasGeek.com, said adding that the Bill was regressive in nature and would choke Wikipedia's maps as well.
Nikhil Pahwa, founder of Medianama, a news and analysis of internet and mobile, said that "since all the information has to be vetted by a security agency, it appears that no real-time map information shall be allowed."
The proposed rules, which internet activists have described as a return to the licence-raj era, could force Google, Apple and Mapmyindia, among others, to pass on the high licence costs to their clients, effectively turning most app-driven services costlier and slower.
The move also comes in the backdrop of some international agencies, social networking sites and online services showing regions of Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as parts of Pakistan and China.
"The draft Bill is against the liberalisation of mapping in India and is not enforceable. It hurts the Digital India initiative as it discourages the use of mapping," said Pranesh Prakash, director at the Centre for Internet and Society.
While Google and Apple said that they were still trying to understand the impact of the Bill, other apps like Uber, Ola and Zomato declined to comment.