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Regulatory Leap: Why India must lead the Web 3.0 policy narrative

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India should participate in setting a global Web 3.0 policy framework. We can’t afford any digital colonialism or authoritarianism

By Srinath Sridharan

Web 3.0 is being shaped by the global developer community on the ideology of the decentralisation of internet. At least technically, with Web 3.0, the BigTech platforms can be disintermediated and might have decreased power over the outcomes. If we have BigTech currently, Web 3.0 would see more of DeepTech. The content creators will have power over their content, and not the platforms as they do have at present.

Between the 1970s-2000s, internet technology and allied businesses were largely dominated by companies from the developed nations. India then did not have the requisite policy muscle or the consumption heft to be involved in the development of policy development on internet governance and the global internet ‘platform-isation’ possibilities. We have come a long way from being body-shoppers to being a country with vibrant entrepreneurial energy and ideas chased by execution-capital.

With commercial applications still evolving, the current consumer and policy conversations around artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), natural language processing (NLP), internet of things (IoT), augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR) technologies, battery technology seem vague, confused, and in a state of disbelief about the actual potential and the impact they could have on the societal norms. The worries about singularity, the point at which technological growth will become irreversible and uncontrollable, and make serious changes to human civilisation, must be respected and factored into any regulatory thinking as we chug ahead.

The governments always have social-governance concerns, as well as the fears of ‘losing control’. The policy worries are diverse. Will any of the Web 3.0 impair state control on regulating those entities? Will decentralising make it onerous for the State to regulate the internet? Will any of these technologies bring challenges of national security or cause any systemic issues? Will they further complicate consumer-protection issues and cyber-risk problems? Can any of the technologies be weaponised against any other state or cohort?

Policy formation for the 21st-century internet will not only be about technology or consumerism, but also about the concept of global strategic affairs. Nations will have to leverage digital for their growth, yet face the onslaught of faceless actors trying to hurt the very same growth. However, the policy-makers won’t have the chance to ponder much, as the global development of Web 3.0 products and solutions is moving with great speed.

Over the past few years, India has used technology in shaping its domestic socio-economic development. This technology has brought in greater inclusion and impactful societal outcomes. Be it Aadhaar, Jan Dhan, UPI, CoWin for vaccination, or the Digital Health Mission, India has built low-cost, high-impact tech-for-better-life innovation.

It is essential that India uses this opportunity to decide on the technologies it wants to use for social good. This is also where India should initiate global conversations, and participate in setting Web 3.0 standards and policy framework for its regulations. But, policy from only a ‘control’ perspective might just push the technologies into the ‘dark-web’, or even drive young entrepreneurs to other global markets, like what is being seen currently with the crypto confusion. The idea of NFTs brings to the fore the regulatory concerns on defining ‘marketplace’, indentification and taxation of the seller and buyer, IP issues and acceptance in the market where the buyer is located, treating these as financial assets and related securities laws, money laundering, gambling laws and, in the case of geo-political economic sanctions, treatment of such assets.

With Metaverse, the concerns revolve around governance structures of these entities and how their IP would be governed. This newer and parallel digital universe is fast capturing the attention and interest of not just the youngsters, but also technologically clued-in non-millennials too. Celebrities and global brands have also shaped the usage of Metaverse with their presence in that new universe. If this is posing a comprehension challenge to policy-makers globally, yet making private investors fund large sums to get these off the ground, we should gear up for further complicated technological outcomes in the decades ahead.

The Web 3.0 world, especially that of international relations, would have variables ranging from individuals, communities, and coalitions to nation-states, non-state actors, and even international bodies, many of them faceless and boundary-less. As a large democracy, India has to think of how these technologies would influence the public narrative, political ideologies, financial markets, global power structures, and social behaviour, and stretch the concept of morality, societal values and ethics.

So any rule-making around Web 3.0 has to happen now, if it has to be for the larger social stability and to uphold liberalism balanced with respect for sovereignty. In this ‘webade’ (Web 3.0 decade), India has to be at the table to shape the mainstreaming of Web 3.0: the future model of society that develops in the decentralised internet era. We cannot afford digital colonialism or authoritarianism by any country or bloc.

According to estimates, Web 3.0 has the potential to contribute over $1 trillion to the Indian GDP by 2031. With over 845 million internet (out of 4.95 billion users globally) and 518 million social media users in 2021, and increasing base rapidly, India is the second-largest internet user in the world. Newer internet users are getting onboarded, thanks to ‘Jiofication’. By 2040, the total number of Internet users in India is expected to cross 1.53 billion and yet the overall demographics will remain productive, with the median age of 35 years.

With such economic potential and a large user base, India needs to lead the setting of global policy for Web 3.0. Alongside, the Indian entrepreneurs need policy and regulatory clarity on what to build and what is not allowed. The soft power of our demographics has to be leveraged to shape the 21st-century digital economy. A proactive and robust Web 3.0 policy outreach by India with the other global sovereigns, both as domestic policy strategy, as much as robust foreign policy, can enable convergence of content, context, communities, commerce, core values, confidence of its entrepreneurs, and criticality of meaningful societal development. Winning the future and shaping our digital-destiny has to start now in the global corridors of digital narrative, with Web 3.0 policies.

The author is Corporate advisor and independent markets commentator
Twitter : @ssmumbai

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