Is Google less watched in India than Facebook?

The Indian subsidiaries of two of the biggest digital advertising giants, Google and Meta Platforms, have published their results for the last fiscal year. Meta’s Indian unit, Facebook India Online Services, saw its gross advertising revenue rise 41% to 9,321 crore as the pandemic spurred the growth of digital advertising platforms. Digital marketing has become a centerpiece of companies’ growth strategy. By comparison, Google India’s gross advertising revenue soared 21% to nearly Rs 13,900 crore, cementing its dominance. Together, the two platforms control over 70% of India’s digital advertising market. We can agree that Google has become more and more critical in our lives, more than Facebook. 98% of Indian smartphones run on Android and the Google search engine needs no introduction. Businesses rely heavily on its non-advertising services such as Google Workspace which provides a host of collaboration and productivity tools as well as its cloud services. While Google’s tools are considered critical internet infrastructure, Facebook primarily provides a platform to express our opinions. While Facebook has been a favorite whipped boy, Google has remained under the radar despite being a platform for several objectionable content, including the dark web and objectionable content. Facebook has invited a slew of political reviews on its activities. More recently, when a whistleblower alleged that Facebook was struggling to control hateful content in India, the Parliamentary Panel on Communications and Computing led by MP Shashi Tharoor asked company officials about it. Google also has a larger Indian workforce than Facebook.

This raises the question of whether Google is seen as so systemically important that it goes under the radar of politicians despite its significant presence in content, primarily through YouTube. Last year, an article in the Wall Street newspaper sparked a political storm and raised questions about Facebook’s content regulation practices in India. The newspaper reported that the social media company was promoting a political party. But the same criteria were not applied to YouTube, which is by far the largest streaming platform in India. The main Facebook app has 350 million users in India, which is lower than YouTube’s 450 million. Starting in January, YouTube is updating its terms of service, which now require publishers of news and current affairs content to provide their account details to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The requirement is part of the new interim directives notified in February this year. One major action that Google has faced is a two-year investigation by India’s Competition Commission into its allegations of abuse of dominance in the Android smartphone market. The investigation reportedly revealed that Google was using its financial might to hurt its competitors. The CCI report says Google has curtailed the ability of device makers to switch to alternate versions of its mobile operating system and force them to preinstall Google apps. Even amid such serious allegations, Google has failed to meet the wrath of our politicians. Perhaps it is time for our elected officials to take a closer look at the internet giant.

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