Analog India’s digitalization drive boosted by Google and Covid-19

Analog India’s digitalization drive boosted by Google and Covid-19

Tech giant Google has pledged $10 billion to India to help accelerate digital services, while the cash-loving nation is reportedly witnessing a shift to digital payments in wake of Covid-19.

Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google, said on Monday that the search giant will launch the India Digitization Fund – a huge money drive taking place over the next five to seven years that will result in $10 billion in funding for the world’s second-most populous country.

In the announcement, India-born Pichai said that the mission was ‘deeply personal’ to him, and will involve Google making multiple investments in the country.

The four areas of focus include making information accessible and affordable regardless of creed, culture or sex, building new products and services relevant to India’s unique context, empowering businesses and guiding them through their digital transformations as well as ‘leveraging technology and AI for social good, in areas like health, education, and agriculture.’

In the statement, Pichai acknowledged that ‘the global pandemic has supercharged the adoption of digital tools,’ in India as elsewhere.

Indeed, as of last month, the value of transactions on the Unified Payments Interface, a platform created by India’s largest banks in 2016, reached an all-time high, as lockdown measures and coronavirus fears compromised the utility of hard cash in the sub-continental nation’s economy. 

This will be good news for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government which famously invalidated most of the country’s high-value currency notes in November 2016 in the hope to make digital payments the norm. The tactic worked only in the immediate term, with cash coming back as soon money began circulating again.

Despite Covid-19, cash is, at least for now, still king as adoption is hindered by lack of infrastructure, something which Google’s fund will likely seek to address moving forward.

As nice as Pichai’s words were, a new expert committee appointed by the government warned on Monday in a report of the risks of Big Tech’s dominance over online data. 

According to the 72-page document, as India moves deeper into digital, “market forces on their own will not bring about the maximum social and economic benefits from data for the society,” showing that the country is aware that much of this investment comes at a price.

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