Google, Facebook remove “offensive” content in India

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Responding to strong government pressure to remove content offensive to Indian politicians and religious groups, Google India has removed an unspecified number of sites and images from Google services in the country (reportedly including Blogger and YouTube) in response to an ongoing court case. The action follows weeks of pressure by the Indian government against nearly two dozen Internet companies, including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Facebook—according to the Press Trust of India, the firms now have until March 1 to present their plans to a New Delhi court for policing objectionable content on their services.

The case highlights the conflict between the typically freewheeling Western view of the Internet and conservative political and religious sentiments in other cultures. Indian officials have been outraged by material hosted on social networking sites and other Internet services, and claim the services are violating Indian law by hosting content that disparages Islam and insults the prime minister and other politicians. Under Indian law, it is illegal to distribute material that created “enmity between classes” or “prejudice to national integration”—a hot-button issue in a country that has 21 “scheduled” languages, hundreds of tribal groups, and a potent mixture of religions including Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Jews, Zoroastrians, and Baha’i.

The Indian government does not characterize its actions as censorship; rather, it says it is enforcing local law and will prosecute offenses.

Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, and others have questioned their inclusion in the case before the New Delhi court, saying no specific charges have been laid against them. Prosecutors have said they would be providing the companies with the materials and evidence in their case.

None of the 22 companies named in the case have issued statements on the matter, and there’s little indication how they will respond to the court’s request for voluntarily producing a framework to keep material deemed offensive off their Indian sites.

The controversy has erupted in the wake of social networking service Twitter implementing a mechanism that enables it to block distribution of tweets on a country-by-country basis; that move was followed almost immediately with a similar mechanism from Google’s Blogger.

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