The standoff could impact Apple’s efforts to expand in India, where half a billion smartphones will be sold by 2020. The Cupertino, California-based company has been in discussions with India’s government to open retail stores and secure permission to sell used iPhones imported into the country. Apple has put forth a long list of demands, including tax breaks and other concessions, to set up manufacturing facilities.
Any new measures could affect not just Apple, but Facebook, Google and other technology companies that handle large amounts of private and personal information. “Data is a strategic asset, and there’s realization around the world that public policy has to come to grips with it,” said Nandan Nilekani, who ran India’s biometric Aadhaar identity program and was recently appointed chairman of Asia’s No. 2 outsourcer Infosys Ltd.
Apple didn’t respond to requests for comment on the regulator’s remarks. Last year, the company shipped 2.5 million iPhones in India, and earlier this year, supplier Wistron Corp. began assembling a limited number of iPhones in Bangalore. So far, the Indian government has all but declined Apple’s request to import used iPhones, and has yet to respond to other demands.
Sharma, who banned Facebook Inc.’s Free Basics internet access program last year, said there hasn’t been a resolution after half-a-dozen meetings with Apple. While Apple’s policy allows it to share user data with affiliates and strategic partners, the Indian government’s Do Not Disturb app only requires a limited, pre-approved level of data sharing, said Sharma, who has a degree in computer science from the University of California at Riverside. Apple’s policy states that sharing data with any other entity isn’t allowed.
“The problem of who controls user data is getting acute and we have to plug the loose ends,” Sharma said. “This is not the regulator versus Apple, but Apple versus its own users.”