Internet giants Google and Facebook removed content from some Indian domain websites on Monday following a court directive warning them of a crackdown “like China” if they did not take steps to protect religious sensibilities. The two are among 21 companies asked to develop a mechanism to block objectional material after a private petitioner took them to court over images deemed offensive to Hindus, Muslim and Christians or and texts that considered anti-social or anti-religious.
A New Delhi court Monday gave Facebook, Google, YouTube and Blogspot and the other sites two weeks to present further plans for policing their networks. Google India did not mention which sites were removed but it is believed that it would be willing to go after anything that violated local law or its own standards.
“There is no question of any censorship,” Communications Minister Sachin Pilot said in Bangalore. “They all have to operate within the laws of the country. … There must be responsible behavior on both sides.”
At the heart of the dispute is a law that India passed last year making companies responsible for user content posted on their web sites, and giving them 36 hours to take down content if there’s a complaint. A lower court in New Delhi told the companies on Monday to put in writing the steps they had taken to block offensive content, and submit reports to the court within 15 days.
Facebook India submitted a compliance report to the court Monday, but it also joined Yahoo and Microsoft in questioning its inclusion in the case, saying no specific complaints had been presented against them.
India is Facebook’s second-fastest growing market, after the U.S. The California-based company, with $3.7 billion in revenues last year, has seen its hoped-for launch in China held back by rules requiring censorship of material seen by the Chinese government as objectionable or obscene.
Fewer than one in 10 of India’s 1.2 billion population has access to the Internet, but that still makes it the second biggest country after the United States. The number of Internet users in India is expected to almost triple to 300 million over the next three years.
Despite the new rules to block offensive content, India’s Internet access is still largely uncensored, in contrast to the tight controls in neighboring China.
While civil rights groups have opposed the new laws, politicians say posting offensive images in a socially conservative country like India, which has a history of violence between religious groups, indicates danger to the public.