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'We, the country’s digital startups, need to have a joint voice so that the government and the people will listen,' said Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the founder of leading digital payments brand Paytm (Photo: Mint)
'We, the country’s digital startups, need to have a joint voice so that the government and the people will listen,' said Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the founder of leading digital payments brand Paytm (Photo: Mint)

India startups join effort to break Google, Facebook dominance

About 56 founders were on the Tuesday evening video conference where discussions ranged from establishing an alternative to Alphabet-owned Google Play Store, the supremacy of large technology corporations such as Facebook and joining hands to get their voice heard by the government and the global behemoths

Founders of dozens of Indian startups gathered over a Zoom call earlier this week to discuss setting up a startup collective to fight the power of Big Tech, shape digital policy and lobby on behalf of the country’s digital enterprises.

About 56 founders were on the Tuesday evening video conference where discussions ranged from establishing an alternative to Alphabet Inc.-owned Google Play Store, the supremacy of large technology corporations such as Facebook Inc. and joining hands to get their voice heard by the government and the global behemoths.

“We, the country’s digital startups, need to have a joint voice so that the government and the people will listen," said Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the billionaire founder of the country’s leading digital payments brand, Paytm. “We can’t let all of India’s digital dreams get controlled by one or two global companies."

The effort is similar to what is happening in the US where an uprising of startups is protesting the dominance of the Google and Apple Inc. app stores and the fees they charge. Additionally, a US antitrust committee is finalizing a report after a 15-month investigation into Google, Apple, Amazon.com Inc. and Facebook. China too is considering an antitrust probe into Google for using its Android mobile operating system to suppress competition, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

The group is toying with several names for the collective including the India Internet Foundation and the Atmanirbhar Digital India Foundation. Atmanirbhar is Hindi for self-sufficiency, a key pillar of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s post-pandemic economic policy. The plan is for the founders to meet again to chalk out next steps.

The immediate provocation for the meeting was Google’s announcement earlier this week that it will start charging newer categories of online services like education, health and dating a 30% fee for payments made within its app system. India’s app ecosystem is monopolized by the Mountain View-based giant whose Android has over 95% market share.

Among those who attended the video conference besides Sharma were Yashish Dahiya of online insurance aggregator Policybazaar, Harshil Mathur of digital payments Razorpay and Vishal Gondal of smart health startup GOQii.“India is a large enough country and its digital ecosystem is growing," said GOQii’s Gondal. “We can’t let foreign companies dictate how we do business." Gondal said hundreds of startups are keen on joining the collective whose informal membership count has crossed 150.

The Indian group is considering lobbying with the government to have global technology companies such as Google and Facebook become “local" much in the way US President Donald Trump is demanding the restructuring of ByteDance’s TikTok.

This would involve getting Google and Facebook to incorporate local entities that are listed in the local stock markets and governed by local legislation and policy.

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