Indians should own and control their own data, billionaire Mukesh Ambani has said, coming out in favor of recent efforts by the Asian nation to draft strict rules around how digital information is stored and shared.

“Data colonization is as bad as the previous forms of colonization,” Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd. and Asia’s richest man, said at an event Wednesday in Mumbai. “India’s data must be controlled and owned by Indian people -- and not by corporates, especially global corporations.”

The comments feed into a debate on how India should balance user protections with support for its digital economy in the world’s fastest-growing major internet market. Foreign companies and hundreds of home-grown startups have flourished amid a dearth of regulation, with research firm eMarketer estimating e-commerce sales will more than double to USD 72 billion by 2022.

Ambani himself has supercharged internet adoption, helping crash data prices with the launch of his telecom venture in 2016. He also plans to create an online-to-offline platform that would take on the likes of Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc, which are both betting big on India’s e-commerce market.

The growing competition has put a spotlight on the evolving privacy push. India is reworking a set of proposed e-commerce rules after a draft sparked criticism for its protectionist overtones. The government is also considering a draft of a data privacy bill, which recommended restrictions on the transfer and storage of information by global giants from Facebook Inc. to Google.

“For India to succeed in this data-driven revolution, necessary steps will have to be taken to migrate the control and ownership of Indian data back to India,” Ambani said.
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