Google, Facebook face criminal court challenge in India


By Noel Young, Correspondent

March 12, 2012 | 3 min read

Google and Facebook start a legal process in a New Delhi court tomorrow over charges that they failed to censor objectionable content on their sites.

Facebook and Google: perils in India

The Wall Street Journal commented that the case "puts on stark display the legal risks for Internet companies chasing growth in India."

If convicted, executives from the two internet giants could face jail and the companies stiff fines, said Indian lawyers .

Both Google and Facebook see India as having enormous potential, with less one-tenth the population on line at the moment. Facebook said in its IPO filing that it had 46 million monthly active users in India in December, up 132% from a year earlier.

A Google executive has said the company expects India's Web user base , now 100 million, to reach 300 million by 2014, largely driven by mobile phones.

But there is high controversy in India over what role Internet companies should have in policing content on the Web.

India has not been as aggressive as China, Iran or Syria in website blocking, said the WSJ. But the Indian authorities have regulated content, including political satire and material that could offend religious groups.

Internet companies are supposed to remove, within 36 hours of being notified, material that is "ethnically objectionable," "grossly harmful," "defamatory" or "blasphemous."

Tomorrow's hearing, likely to be procedural, is over a criminal complaint from Indian journalist Vinay Rai. He alleges Facebook, Google's YouTube , the Orkut social network, and several smaller Indian sites hosted material that "seeks to create enmity, hatred and communal violence" and "will corrupt minds."

The complaint cites obscene content said to depict Hindu, Muslim and Christian religious figures in a mocking or offensive manner.

Google and Facebook say India's information-technology law protects them from liability for content posted by users. But still the legal process starts in a New Delhi court tomorrow over charges that they failed to censor objectionable content on their sites.

However Sandeep Aggarwal, a former Silicon Valley research analyst who runs the Indian e-commerce site, told the WSJ, " India can't afford to send a message that unreasonable censorship of the Internet has started."

The Internet industry could generate 1.5 million jobs and $45 billion in wealth for investors in the next few years, "but not if companies are bogged down in litigation."

Google and Facebook have petitioned the Delhi High Court to quash the case but that hearing isn't until early May.

Between January and June of last year, Google received government requests to remove 358 items - and complied a little more than half the time.


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