Internet giant Google stood its ground on Tuesday against the government’s directive to websites to remove “controversial” content. “We work really hard to both follow the law and also give people as much access to information as we can. So we follow the law when it comes to illegal content,” the Google spokesperson said.
“But it also means that when content is legal but controversial we don’t remove it because people’s differing views should be respected, so long as they are legal.” Citing its censorship policy, Google said “even where content is legal but breaks our own terms and conditions, we take that down, too, once we have been notified about it”. Google has more than 100 million users in India.
Facebook, which has more than 25 million users in India, on the other hand, adopted a relatively softer stance. The rapidly growing social networking site said it recognised the government’s interest in removing abusive content and will engage with Indian authorities on the issue.
“We want Facebook to be a place where people can discuss freely while respecting the rights and feelings of others. We already have policies and on-site features in place and will remove any content that violates our terms,” an official statement from Facebook said.
According to an IT ministry source, the problem started with some Facebook pages like’I Hate Sonia Gandhi’,'Manmohan Singh Is Puppet of Sonia Gandhi’ and a highly objectionable morphed photograph, which was widely circulated during the anti-corruption protests against the UPA government.
The internet companies say India has no clear guidelines about what constitutes’offensive’ and hateful. “The government should come out with clear guidelines regarding use of certain keywords or certain content as illegal rather than sticking to vague terms such as offensive and objectionable. It will help the companies to control the content better as it happens in the case of China,” a senior official with Google said. “But here they want to control the content, at the same time advocating freedom of speech as well.”
An IT department source said the officials had got instructions to draw up the guidelines soon. “We are working on the guidelines, but it will take at least two-three months to complete them,” the official said.
According to Google’s transparency report, India has made nearly 70 requests to Google to remove content between January and June 2011.