NEW DELHI: Government’s new rules for governing user-generated content on websites are evoking the ire of internet community in India and chiefly from the largest search engine firm Google, which calls the rules as censorship of internet in the country.
The new set of rules will impact all internet firms which accept user-generated content such as Google, Microsoft, Rediff, Indiatimes, Yahoo, Facebook , among others. The new rules are set to regulate reader’s comments on articles, user-posted videos, blogs, photos and comments on wall posts on online social networks.
The new rules are notified by the Ministry of IT and Communications under Section 79 of the Indian IT Act. The IT Rules, 2011, state that the websites shall inform users not to publish any posts that are blasphemous, incite hatred, are ethnically objectionable, infringe patents, threaten India’s unity or public order.
The websites will have to remove any content within 36 hours if a complainant terms it as blasphemous, inciting violence, harming him or national security in any way. Legal or police action can be taken against the website owner if the content is not removed within the specified time frame. The complainant can send his or her complaint via electronically-signed email or a registered post.
Experts say that the new rules will increase the cost of compliance for internet firms that will now have to keep large teams to monitor and remove blasphemous content. World’s largest search engine Google, which owns YouTube and Orkut, has objected to the new rules. “If internet platforms are held liable for third-party content, it would lead to self-censorship and reduce the free flow of information. The regulatory framework should ideally help protect internet platforms and people’s abilities to access information,” said a Google India spokesperson.
“Google believes that free and open internet is essential for the growth of digital economy and safeguarding freedom of expression,” the Google official added. All websites will also have to compulsorily appoint a grievance officer, and publish his or her contact details on the website. The officer will have to address the complaints within a month of receiving the complaint by email or post.
The new rules will also impact sites like Shaadi.com, SimplyMarry or Jeevansathi.com, where there have been cases of mischievous users putting pictures of some other person for matrimony. The rules will also impact sites such as Orkut, Facebook, Rediff and Yahoo which carry user-generated posts. It will also impact sites like YouTube and EBay, where users can post videos or things to sell.
Ebay on the other hand said that the guidelines provide a framework within which companies and consumers can operate. “It makes sense for the internet like any other business to have a consumer complaints cell which is easily contactable and has clearly called out resolution guidelines” said Deepa Thomas, eBay India spokesperson.
Yahoo declined to comment on the issue. Internet and Mobile Association of India termed the new rules as being detrimental to the growth of social media in India. “The rules seem to step on the statutory side, biased towards the complainant. Even before a case is filed in court, the website has to take down the content. It might harm freedom of speech on internet,” said an IAMAI spokesperson.