A Framework for Intermediary Classification in India

Published: December, 2022

Intermediaries in India are defined under section 2(w) of the Information Technology Act 2000 (“IT Act”). The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (“IT Rules, 2021”), notified in February 2021, lay down the framework for their regulation. These rules introduce a new classification that categorizes intermediaries into different kinds and prescribes obligations for each category.

Although the classification is useful in providing differentiated obligations, the category definitions are still quite broad and not nuanced enough. In the digital world, there are various kinds of intermediaries, providing different types of services, and not all intermediaries inflict public harm or impact public discourse. Intermediaries providing enterprise solutions, for instance, are integral to the functioning of most organizations, but don’t pose the same risks as a platform that allows for wider dissemination of information. Therefore, bucketing all such intermediaries into one unified category and imposing similar legal obligations on them may not be appropriate.

As the Government of India prepares to replace the IT Act 2000 with a new Digital India Act, it may be worth taking a fresh look at intermediary classification to recognise the complexity of the online space today. The new approach can take a proportionate and risk-based lens to regulation by considering a range of factors such as platform features, number and types of users, as well as the nature of risks involved to propose an alternative classification framework. If such a framework were to create space for participation by the industry, it may also allow service providers to come up with solutions that work to address platform-specific dynamics, without running the risk of overregulation.

Given the above context, this paper attempts to propose a new way of classifying intermediaries to help improve accountability and online safety, while also reducing legal obligations for intermediaries. It is hoped that the proposed framework can help achieve the government’s policy goal of creating a safer internet ecosystem while also allowing businesses to thrive.
Access the full paper here
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The Future of Work

Published: December, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in some permanent changes in the way we work. With the outbreak of the pandemic, public health measures such as lockdowns became mandatory across the world, with over 90 countries imposing such measures by April 2020. Overnight, diverse sectors such as healthcare, education, business, government, and more had to find new ways to function while adhering to changing guidelines. It was information and communication technologies (ICTs) — such as video communications — that became the bulwark of our defense at this time, allowing economic activity to continue and helping employees work from the safety of their homes.

While it was the pandemic that led to the large-scale adoption of ‘teleworking’ models across sectors, the experience of working online through 2020 and 2021 gave employees the appetite and interest in continuing such models in the long-term. Today, many employers continue to offer teleworking options to employees.

This includes policies specifying job roles or teams that can work remotely, or others that require employees to work on-site only on certain days. Hybrid work — a mix of on-site and off-site workstyles — offers employees much flexibility in deciding their workstyle, with initial surveys showing that many employees value this flexibility. Data from job portals also shows that the number of searches for flexible work options has dramatically increased in recent times.

Over the past two years, there has been a decisive shift in expectations in the workforce. As a result, hybrid work arrangements, in some form or the other, are likely to persist well after the pandemic. Besides offering flexibility to employees, hybrid work allows employers to tap better talent, and enhance productivity. It could, with the right policies, help address socio-economic issues such as women’s labor force participation, access for disabled employees, as well as regional inequalities in economic development. However, there are certain safeguards needed for effective hybrid working too. These include reducing friction in the regulatory framework — particularly diverse labor laws that are yet to be updated to regulate the changing nature of work, issues such as ‘moonlighting’ and lack of access to suitable work environments in India’s multi-generational households, negative effects on work-life balance, data security and employee privacy concerns, and the extra burden of care work on women employees.

To minimize the risks posed to employers and employees, public policies and programs that support the uptake of hybrid work models will be crucial. To enable a fair and inclusive transition, governments and workplaces must balance workers’ needs with organizational and financial concerns. The government, in particular, could also proactively develop policies to support hybrid work, considering the potential benefits that such a shift might entail. As the definition of a workplace evolves, such interventions can help facilitate wider workforce participation and minimize implementation challenges, while making sure that employees working remotely get similar legal protections as their counterparts working onsite.

Internationally, many countries have already instituted policies and put their weight behind programs that encourage the transition. These include measures such as creation of well-equipped co-working hubs, tax exemptions, and a change in labor laws, including the rights of employees to disconnect after their agreed working hours. Besides these, India will also need to bolster its internet infrastructure so that ICT tools can work seamlessly across geographical boundaries.

It is in the above context that the team at TQH worked with Zoom India to put together this whitepaper to provide an overview of the emerging evidence on hybrid work in India, while identifying challenges affecting employees and employers. The whitepaper also looks at promising international practices aimed at facilitating hybrid work and provides recommendations that can help unlock its true potential for a productive and inclusive work environment in the country.

Access the whitepaper here

Towards Regulating App Stores

Published: May, 2022

The App Store ecosystem

Mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets are an indispensable part of modern life. They enable internet connectivity and provide a range of products and services such as instant communication, access to music, news and gaming through mobile software applications or “Apps”. Much like computers, all mobile devices run using an operating system. iOS and Android (run by Apple and Google respectively) are the major mobile operating systems, having a combined worldwide market share of 99.28% (as of April 2022). In India, Android dominates the market with its market share being 95.1%, while iOS has 3.93%.

Users usually download apps from digital marketplaces known as app stores. All smartphones come with at least one native app store pre-installed on the phone – on iOS, it is the App Store and on Android, it is Google Play . By virtue of the large market shares of their underlying OS, App Store and Google Play have today become the dominant stores through which developers distribute apps to mobile users. Though some other app stores such as the Amazon App Store, Indus App Bazaar, Microsoft Store, F-Droid etc. exist, and one can sometimes also download apps via websites, the volume of downloads through these channels pales in comparison with the downloads through the App Store and Google Play. As a result, these stores are often termed “gatekeepers” of the app ecosystem.

App stores provide a wide variety of services to both users and developers. They do this by helping developers connect with users, and by subjecting all apps to checks before they can be published in the stores. These checks help reduce inappropriate and illegal content. As a result, users can easily find and securely purchase, download and update their apps. Developers gain too – app stores give them access to a large market, support app development, and provide various types of feedback through reviews, etc.

App stores charge a fee to cover the costs of providing these services and for facilitating transactions between developers and users. While many developers only pay a nominal listing fee to publish their app, the developers who sell digital goods and services are required to pay a set rate of commission on the purchase of paid apps, subscription services and purchases made within the app – known as “in-app purchases” (“IAPs”). The commissions charged vary depending on the type of app and sometimes, according to the jurisdiction where it operates. The Apple App Store charges either 15 or 30% commission on purchase of paid apps and IAPs, depending on the type of app. Similarly, Google Play charges either 15 or 30%, but this was not strictly enforced until recently. Other stores like the Microsoft Store charge 12% for games and 15% for other apps and the Epic Games Store charges 12%.

App Store policies and concerns around abuse of dominance

Given the extensive market share and user base of Google and Apple globally, their policies affect a wide swathe of users and developers, and changes to their policies can alter market dynamics for many participants. One policy that has received a lot of attention (and criticism) in the recent past has been Google’s decision to enforce a high commission on IAPs and paid apps by mandating the use of its proprietary payments system. Under this policy, developers will be effectively barred from using any other system to accept payments from customers. Several Indian developers have objected to this move and criticized the quantum of commissions as well as the lack of choice in picking a payments system, terming the proposed policy change unreasonable. Google’s new rules – which are already in force in some parts of the world and scheduled to come into force in India in late 2022 – could significantly dent developers’ profit margins, affecting both business viability and innovation.

While commissions are important for the operation of the stores themselves, it is difficult to determine the fair rates of commission. In the absence of competition, what is fair is not a straightforward question to answer, especially given the information asymmetry that plagues the relationship between developers and app store operators.

The problem is further compounded by the bundling of services – both the dominant app stores offer a multitude of services beyond any standard payment gateway available in the market. Because services are bundled, it becomes difficult to determine the fair fee for each service. The size and ubiquity of the dominant app stores, which benefit immensely from being pre-installed on their own operating systems, makes it almost impossible to ascertain a reasonable quantum or threshold for commissions.

Antitrust action around the world

Taking cognizance of these issues, several regulators around the world have expressed concerns with the policies of the dominant app stores. Apple is currently under investigation from regulators in the USA, Europe, Japan, Australia and India, while Google is also facing proceedings in the USA, Europe and India, among other countries. In India, cases were filed against Google and Apple with the Competition Commission of India (CCI) which is currently investigating them for abuse of market power in the country. In December 2021, the Netherlands competition regulator (ACM) found Apple’s App Store in violation of its competition laws. It has since levied a series of (weekly) penalties against Apple for what it asserts is continued non-compliance with its order. By the 28th of March 2022 these fines had totaled €50 million with the regulator threatening another round of fines “with possible higher penalties”. On the 28th of March 2022, France also joined the fray with the Paris Commercial Court levying a fine of €2 million on Google and asking it to rewrite clauses in its developer agreements that were deemed unbalanced within three months. The court said that Google could not provide it with any real justification for the commission charged.

But even as competition regulators are assessing the potential abuse of market power, several commentators have noted the limitations of this approach and called upon policymakers to rethink regulation of digital markets like apps stores.

Limitations of antitrust regulation

Competition cases such as the ones currently under investigation require in-depth technical research that usually results in lengthy proceedings leading to delayed regulatory action. This can lead to aggrieved parties facing irrevocable harm in fast-moving digital markets where speed of innovation and quick uptake of products is critical for success. A case in point is France where the competition authority had started legal proceedings in 2018 to examine the contract clauses introduced by Google in 2015 and 2016. Some of these disputed contract clauses had already been changed while the proceedings were underway.

Therefore, to minimize damage and ensure competition in digital markets, some governments have considered the enactment of ex ante regulation that can guide the behaviour of market actors by prescribing practices such as unbundling, to help prevent negative outcomes before they occur. In August 2021, South Korea passed a law barring app stores from forcing developers to use the app stores’ proprietary billing system, becoming the first major legislation worldwide to impact app store policies. A bill introduced in the US Senate also seeks to impose similar curbs. Another legislation – The Digital Markets Act – is currently under consideration in the EU.

Our Study

It is in the above context that The Quantum Hub worked with the Alliance of Digital India Foundation (ADIF) to assess the competitive landscape in the app store market in India, highlight pressing concerns of developers, and determine the need, if any, for government intervention.

Access the study here

COVID-19: The Gendered Impact on Urban Informal Workers in Delhi NCR

Published: February 2022

A year into the pandemic, its devastating impacts have disrupted social and economic infrastructure and have further marginalized millions of people. In many ways, the epicentre of the pandemic was felt among the urban informal workers in the country, particularly women. Already existing at the edge of precarity with respect to livelihood, social security, and shelter – all of which lay on the spectrum of informality – the humanitarian crisis brought about by the pandemic further widened the fault lines of their pre-existing social and economic vulnerabilities. As the government urged people to stay at home and the economic cogwheels of the country came to a grinding halt, India witnessed one of the worst recessions since independence, with the economy shrinking by a historic 7.3% in the first year of COVID. Overnight, urban informal workers across the country lost their jobs and incomes.

As a result of the loss in livelihood and income, it is estimated that about 400 million people, working in the informal economy in India, were at the “risk of falling deeper into poverty”. During this period, the number of people living below the minimum wage threshold of Rs. 375 per day had increased by 230 million. In addition, with the rise in COVID infections, urban informal settlements with their tightly spaced living conditions and poor sanitation were at the heightened risk of becoming a tinderbox for infection, thus making it unviable for large groups of migrant workers to stay in the cities. However, to arrest the spread of infection, the government placed heavy restrictions on mobility, including border restrictions across state lines and the suspension of public transport. As a result, thousands of migrant informal workers were left with no choice but to walk hundreds of kilometres to reach their hometowns, away from the cities where they were no longer able to afford food and rent.

While the impact of the pandemic was universal, several studies have observed that this was felt more harshly among women who were caught at the intersection of traditional gender norms, COVID-19 induced socio-economic challenges, and the general precarity associated with the informal sector. Not only were the total job losses higher among women (especially urban women), they also experienced an increased burden of care work during this period. Reports have also observed that violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, intensified during the lockdowns, leading to a ‘Shadow Pandemic’.

When tracing the progress of policies for informal workers, it is evident that the crisis began long before COVID-19 hit the country. The heightened challenges that women informal workers have been facing during the pandemic are thus an extension of their earlier precarious state. As a result, despite several relief measures announced by the government, many households had to reportedly cope by cutting down on their food intake, selling assets, borrowing money, or returning to their villages where they had some socio-economic support.

While several studies have been conducted on how workers can be best supported during such periods, there are gaps in existing data and research around the subject of women informal workers. This study hopes to fill those gaps and bridge the distance between research on pre-pandemic vulnerabilities, and institutional policy responses through the course of COVID-19 by looking at such workers in the context of the Delhi National Capital Region (NCR). In the absence of clear policy safeguards, the report also delves into informal channels and actors that organized during the pandemic and how similar such interventions can be supported.

Read the report here

Towards a gender-responsive and inclusive economic recovery for India in the COVID-19 context

Published: November 2021

The severe and disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the most vulnerable and marginalised groups, which includes girls and women, in India has been discussed in much detail. Women have not only faced massive job and income losses with slow revival, but also witnessed an increase in unpaid care work, and have been forced to exit the labour force in large numbers.

As per government estimates, the female labour force participation rate was about 16 per cent in the months of April-June 2020 right after the pandemic induced lockdown was imposed in India. This implies that less than 1 in 5 women aged 15 or older had a job or were looking for jobs. Further, the State of Working India Report 2021 suggests that about 47 per cent of working women suffered a permanent job loss till December 2020, while the corresponding figure for men was only 7 per cent.

The impact of the pandemic on women-owned and women-led micro-enterprises was also severe, with an average drop of about 73 per cent in incomes during the early months of the lockdown, and over 10 per cent of enterprises closing permanently by May 2020.

While the Government of India and the state governments announced a slew of measures to address the health and socio-economic impacts of the lockdown, several of these measures did not reach their intended beneficiaries, particularly the most marginalised and vulnerable women and girls. As India continues to gain momentum in its economic recovery and resumes business activities, particularly after the impact of the second wave, a just and equitable economic recovery plan is needed—one that is also gender-responsive.

Governments and organisations across the globe are rethinking existing systems and ways of working in order to build forward better by adopting sustainable and transformative policies that are gender-just. These measures include prioritising investments in the care economy; generating equitable jobs and livelihoods; and accelerating systemic changes to reduce environmental degradation and catalyse a gender-equitable recovery. This requires reimagining economic models and focusing on a care-focused, climate just and equitable recovery that is based on a rights based model. At the same time, it is also important to mobilise resources and diversify funding mechanisms to address the long-term “scarring” that developing economies are currently facing due to a loss in productive human capital, in order to avoid plummeting into a poverty trap.

Written in collaboration with IWWAGE (Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy), this paper lays out suggestions for a macroeconomic recovery for India in a COVID and post-COVID context with a specific focus on putting women and girls at the centre of the economic recovery. The paper includes short, medium and long-term measures in the areas of monetary and fiscal policy, with a section on innovative financing options to address the challenge of limited fiscal space to achieve gender-equitable outcomes.

Read the paper here

Levelling the playing field: Protecting the Interests of Automobile Dealers in India

Published: October, 2021

According to a recent Parliamentary Standing Committee Report, the Indian automobile industry is a Rs. 8.2 lakh crore industry and its turnover constitutes 7.1% of overall GDP, 27% of industrial GDP and 49% of manufacturing GDP, clearly signifying its importance as one of the key sectors of the economy. This sector also provides employment, directly and indirectly to about 3.7 crore persons. It is also a large contributor to the national exchequer, contributing 1.5 lakh crore in GST which corresponds to 15% of the total GST collected in December 2020, when the above-mentioned report was submitted.

The value chain of the automobile industry in India typically consists of the automobile manufacturers (“OEM” – Original Equipment Manufacturers) and automobile dealers (“Dealers”) that form the two pillars of the industry along with allied services such as finance, insurance etc. Dealers in India are predominantly small and medium enterprises that provide employment to over 4 million people, making them a significant stakeholder in the welfare of the country. In a country where owning a family car has always been a luxury and a dream, automobile dealerships are an integral part of the business ecosystem and community.

However, the automobile industry and its progress face significant challenges in India. In an industrial landscape muddled by entries and exits of international OEMs, an overall slump in the automobile sector, and the historically imbalanced power structures between OEMs and Dealers, it is the Dealers that often pay the price.

To understand the underlying issues, The Quantum Hub worked with the Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations (FADA) to undertake a comprehensive comparative analysis of dealership Agreements in India and abroad, while studying the legal frameworks and protections available to Dealers in other countries. The findings have been incorporated into a Policy Brief that can be accessed below.

Our research suggests that the current structure of most contracts in India is not equitable, and a protective legislation may be needed to level the playing field.

Access the brief here

Making a Gender Responsive Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme

Published: December, 2020

The pandemic and subsequent lockdown measures in India have taken a toll on all aspects of life, particularly on livelihoods. While job losses have been observed in both rural and urban sectors, recent figures show that there has been an increase in creation of non-salaried jobs in rural areas, but generation of wage employment in the urban sector has remained a challenge. Over 21 million salaried jobs have been lost in India (out of a base of 86 million overall salaried jobs) between April and August 2020. A survey by the Azim Premji University suggests that urban areas posted a loss in employment for 8 in 10 workers. This evidence points to the fact that urban livelihoods have taken a huge hit due to the COVID-19 crisis, and the ability of the urban sector to create new jobs to compensate for these losses is currently under a cloud.

Women have been disproportionately affected by job losses. A recent report tracking the pandemic’s influence on informal work in India suggests that more women were out of work post-lockdown compared to men (about 79 percent of women surveyed, compared to 75 percent of the men). Such findings are expected as women are overrepresented in the informal and unorganised sectors such as domestic work, construction work, beauty and wellness industry, and sex work, which have been acutely impacted due to lockdowns. Even in the formal sector, women are more likely to be hired for temporary or part-time positions, making it easier for firms to let them go if there is downsizing, while avoiding social security benefits.

This decrease is especially worrying, as female labour force participation rate (FLFPR) in India has witnessed a decline since 1990. Declining female labour force participation in economies is known to lead to several negative externalities including a reduction in household financial, food and nutrition security, as well as a direct reduction in consumption expenditure of households, thereby creating a drag on the growth of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which depends largely on consumption expenditure.

Given the dire consequences induced by the pandemic and its severe impacts in urban areas, several policy experts and analysts have opined that this an opportune time for governments to step in and ensure some semblance of livelihood guarantee in urban areas, much like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) does for rural areas. It is in this context that we undertake this research.

Access the analysis here

This analysis has been authored by Deepro Guha and Aparajita Bharti of TQH. Valuable feedback and inputs were provided by Soumya Kapoor Mehta, Head, IWWAGE.

Women and work: How India fared in 2021

A data story on women’s livelihoods and work

Published: January, 2022
The year 2021 continued to be a year of response, recovery and resilience. Even as recovery seemed to be on the horizon, a brutal second wave of COVID-19 brought about a new set of challenges. In line with observations from the first year of the pandemic, women and girls were impacted disproportionately — with structural barriers to equality adding an additional layer of disadvantage to the health crisis. Even as this report is compiled, the Omicron variant threatens to destabilise recovery further, with leaders from across geographies and sectors working towards mitigating its impact.

We need a recovery that is gender-responsive and equitable. In order to achieve this, we need social safety nets that are better designed and inclusive; reduce the gendered divide in access to technology and design hybrid working solutions; reduce and redistribute care work and invest in strengthening the care economy; and, ensure effective and scalable policies and solutions by collecting robust, sex-disaggregated data.

This report stitches together and maps the efforts that are underway to bring women back to work and prepare women and girls for the future of work. The report highlights different developments, whether policy-focused or programmatic, that have defined work for women in India in 2021.

The report also provides a forward-looking perspective on the future of work for a self-reliant India, with a focus on new age skills, entrepreneurship, and the rise of non-traditional livelihoods. Woven through this report are insights around the social indicators that impact women’s participation in the workforce, including issues such as access, health and well-being, and security.

Access the 2021 report here
For the 2020 version of the same report, click here

The report was compiled by the TQH team with valuable inputs from IWWAGE

EBooks: Building Blocks of India’s Knowledge Economy

Published: May 2018

EBooks have only been around for 47 years or so. ‘Project Gutenburg’ created by Michael Hart in 1971 was the beginning of the process of book digitization. The oldest digital library in the world, Gutenburg, was created with the goal of making literary works available for free in the public domain. Though still at a nascent stage of market development, eBooks have slowly gained a foothold given their many advantages including easy accessibility, lower costs (compared to print books), and portability. The proliferation of the internet and the increasing thrust by governments across the world to move towards a digital economy have also contributed towards expanding the market for eBooks.

Reading habits in the digital age mirror the overall consumer preference for personalized, customized and interactive content, which eBooks are capable of delivering. This trend was first witnessed in developed economies but emerging markets are following suit too. A 2014 survey by the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication revealed that 58.1% of China’s reading population read digitally, which was an 8% increase from 2013, and more importantly, also marked the first time when digital reading surpassed paper reading by the reading population. India’s reading habits are likely to follow the same trajectory as China as more and more people come online. In fact, the 2015 Nielsen India Book Market Report revealed that 56% of the respondents surveyed in urban India bought at least one eBook a year and nearly half of these bought at least 3-4 eBooks a year, indicating a growing demand for digital books in India.

However, despite the positive externalities associated with inexpensive books, in terms of taxation, eBooks are not taxed at par with print books. This White Paper makes a case for leveling the playing field for physical books and eBooks in India as well as for making both eBooks and physical books zero rated – a system wherein the entire value chain of the product is exempt from tax, thereby allowing publishers to avail of the benefits of input tax credit and helping bring down costs.

Access the white paper here

Menstrual Hygiene Management – Lessons for States

Published: September 2019

Of 355 million menstruating women and girls across India, a large number still face significant barriers to experiencing menstruation in a comfortable, dignified and hygienic way. This is where menstrual hygiene management (MHM), which is about creating an ecosystem that allows for women and girls experiencing menstruation, to do so in a safe and dignified way, assumes importance. It includes awareness, easy and affordable access to feminine hygiene products to absorb or collect menstrual blood, privacy to change the materials for protection, and access to facilities to dispose of used menstrual management materials.

To achieve proper menstrual hygiene, there is a need to address all the above four prongs of menstruation, equally. However, social stigma and misconceptions surrounding menstruation have resulted in it receiving limited attention from community elders, policy makers and development actors in India. One of the major drawbacks of such social stigma is the inaccurate and/or incomplete knowledge about menstruation. At an individual level, this lack of information directly impacts how women and girls maintain menstrual hygiene, with poor hygiene increasing their susceptibility to reproductive tract infections. At a broader level, poor knowledge of menstruation translates into absence of appropriate supportive infrastructure, and a lack of access to safe and hygienic menstrual hygiene products, particularly among rural and economically deprived communities. This is amply demonstrated by the 2016-17 National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS) report which highlighted that overall, only 57.6% of India’s women aged between 15-24 years used hygienic methods of protection during menstruation.

Proper menstruation practices and sanitation, along with infrastructural support for women-sensitive toilets and buildings, can contribute significantly to women’s empowerment as it decreases absenteeism in schools and employment spaces. It can also aid in erasing taboos and misinformation associated with the same, thereby significantly impacting a woman’s feelings of self-worth, and easing the psychological toll of menstruation, in turn making them active participants in the socio-economic space.

Tamil Nadu has long been considered a pioneer in menstrual health management, and is known for being among the first states in India to introduce measures to systematically overcome/combat the lack of awareness about and access to, hygienic menstrual practices. This report seeks to undertake a case study of Tamil Nadu to find the most effective ways to universally promote MHM, with the aim of ensuring access to hygienic menstrual health practices for all women in India. Studying the best practices of Tamil Nadu and how it has achieved its current levels of menstrual hygiene practices, will allow us to make recommendations that can be effectively replicated at a larger scale across other states that fare poorly on MHM currently.

The full report, a policy brief and a MHM plan template for states can be accessed below. For any queries on the subject, please feel free to write to us at [email protected]

Detailed report
Brief for policymakers
MHM Plan – A template for state governments