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Google integrates Indian government's cloud services into Android

Collab obviously goes deep – accessing DigiLocker requires use of national identity service

Google has integrated the Indian government's cloud storage service into Android – a feat that weaves the national ID system and government documents deeply into the search giant's OS.

India's cloud storage service is called DigiLocker and was scoped at 14 exabytes – a gigabyte for every citizen.

DigiLocker is intended as a repository for government documents such as driving licenses, academic records, or vehicle registrations. Document signing facilities have been added to the platform. But take-up has been moderate – its 100 million users are but a small fraction of the nation's 1.4 billion people, of whom 780 million-plus are mobile device users.

Android, however, has over 95 percent market share in India.

And now the Files by Google app – which makes it easier to access Android's filesystem – can access files stored in DigiLocker.

This isn't just like adding a third-party storage provider like Dropbox. This is significant, for three reasons.

One is that accessing DigiLocker requires logging in with India's Aadhar national identity scheme. So India clearly trusts Google enough to make that happen.

Another reason is that DigiLocker has its own apps. The government is clearly that keen for an extra avenue to drive DigiLocker adoption that it is prepared for its apps to wither on the vine as users look to Google alternatives.

A third is that India has in recent years promoted the concept of "Aatmanirbhar Bharat" – a vision for self-reliance in many fields. Yet here's India leaning on Google – a foreign company – to help it spread a government service.

Google also announced a bunch of other India-centric stuff, including:

  • Improved speech recognition for speakers of "Hinglish" – a mix of Hindi and English that is common in India. Google is not being entirely altruistic with this innovation, as it revealed "the percentage of Indians using voice search queries each day is nearly twice the global average";
  • Delivering search results in two languages – English and a user's local language. India recognizes 22 regional languages as official, so again this is Google making sure its services are usable, not just observing local mores;
  • Adding a search option that accepts text and images as input;
  • Improved fraud detection in Google Pay, and a feature that allows voice queries such as "Show me how much I spent on coffee last week".

All of the above was enough to earn Alphabet boss and expat Indian Sundar Pichai – who attended the event – a chat with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.

While the above is all smiles and bonhomie – as is the case with such things – Google and India remain at loggerheads on many issues. India has fined Google twice in recent months for abusing its Android monopoly, and anti-competitive practices in its Play store. Another case about abuse of Smart TV market power remains unresolved.

YouTube remains under constant pressure for allowing video nasties – or clips deemed as such in India – to reach the nation's populace. ®

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