Google in India An estimated 110 million Indians were on the Internet, and the market was expected to reach 300 million by 2014 according to Rajan Anandan, Google head in India. Although the number of Internet users was nowhere near its potential, there were already 700 million cellphone users in 2011, spurred in part by low-cost phones. Almost half of India’s 1.2 billion people were younger than 25. Gautam Gandhi, head of new business development for Google India, said, “We are very excited about the Indian market. The number of people online is very small and new users are going online through the mobile phone.”69 In 2011 Google unveiled “Indic web,” which allowed users to translate among several Indian languages: Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Tamil, and Telugu.70 This allowed Indians who otherwise could not communicate with those speaking a different language to expand their reach on the Internet. This innovation had increased the scope of blogging in India. Google was the leading Internet site in India, and its social-networking site Orkut was the sixth largest site, according to ViziSense.71 Google was estimated to obtain only a very small portion of its 2010 revenue of $29.3 billion from India, since the market for online advertising had not yet blossomed as it had elsewhere. Anandan was trying to get major advertisers in India to change their advertising strategy. He said, “You should actually have a digital first strategy. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do significant TV advertising, but for many industries digital today can not only reach the audience that’s most valuable to them but also target them in a very interesting way.”72 In addition to the challenge of developing the digital advertising business in India, Google faced the problem of complying with a new law pertaining to the responsibilities of Internet service providers. The law had been clarified by new rules promulgated in 2011, but those rules posed additional challenges to the company. In 2008 terrorists based in Pakistan launched an attack in Mumbai that killed 163 people. Shortly afterward Parliament enacted a law that gave the government expanded powers over electronic communications and also established certain privacy rights of individuals. India’s constitution established the right to free speech, but that right was subject to “reasonable restrictions” to protect “public order, decency, or morality.”73 The Indian government made 1,400 requests for data from Google in the first half of 2010, whereas the United States made 4,200 requests, many of them presumably related to security matters and terrorism. Google reported that many of the requests from India pertained to postings on Orkut.74 The Indian law required Web sites to take down objectionable material or the Web sites themselves, and the maximum penalty for failing to do so was a fine and a jail sentence of up to 7 years.75 Internet companies viewed the law as better than the previous law because it removed liability for companies as long as they did not create content that was objectionable. Subho Ray, president of the Internet and Mobile Association of India, commented, “The new IT Act (2008) is, in fact, a large improvement on the old one.”76 In 2011 when the government was in the process of issuing rules to implement the law, Google submitted comments on a draft version of the rules, but it took no other nonmarket action. In its comments Google had said it was “troubled” by a provision that could make it liable for material posted on an Internet site and possibly subject to imprisonment and fines.77 The proposed rule stated that an Internet company “shall not itself host or publish or edit or store” material that was banned.78 Google also objected to a provision that required an Internet company to remove banned material after notification or “obtaining actual knowledge by itself.”79 Both provisions remained in the final rules, the Information Technology (Intermediaries guidelines) Rules, 2011. The Indian rules banned material that was “grossly harmful, harassing, blasphemous” or “ethnically objectionable,” “disparaging,” or “impersonates another person.” The rules explained that the banned material “threatens the unity, integrity, defense, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states or public order.”80 As an example of the sensitivity, Google was alerted to offensive comments posted on Orkut about the chief minister of the state of Andhra Pradesh, who had recently died in an airplane crash. Google responded by taking down the offensive comments and the user group as well.81 As another example, the most important politician in India is Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi, the widow of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1991. In 2008 a person posted on Orkut a site entitled “I hate Sonia Gandhi.” Google removed the site and turned over the person’s IP address. He was arrested under India’s obscenity law. Sunil Abraham, executive director for the NGO Center for Internet and Society in Bangalore, commented on the 2011 rules, “These rules overly favor those who want to clamp down on freedom of expression. Whenever there are limits of freedom of expression, in order for those limits to be considered constitutionally valid, those limits have to be clear and not be very vague. Many of these rules that seek to place limits are 74International Herald Tribune, January 10, 2011. 75Wall Street Journal, January 2–3, 2010. 76New York Times, April 28, 2011. 77Wall Street Journal, May 11, 2011. 78Ibid. 79Ibid. 80New York Times, April 28, 2011. 81Wall Street Journal, January 2–3, 2010. very, very vague.”82 Abraham also said, “With this kind of blanket surveillance regime, we are on a very slippery slope. The language is so vague that it is open to arbitrary interpretations. . . . In comparison with other democracies in North America and Europe, the Indian rules appear to be on the China end of the spectrum.”83 Pushkar Raj, general secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties in New Delhi, exclaimed, “What are we, Saudi Arabia? We don’t expect this from India. This is something very serious.”84 Commenting on the criticism of the new rules, Sachin Pilot, deputy minister for communications and information technology, said, “We believe in freedom of speech through all media, including the Internet, although there are some codes of conduct that are expected to be followed by all. We have sought to balance the rights of consumers with those of service providers and other stakeholders in this space. We must draw a distinction between freedom of expression and freedom of expression with intent to harm or defame someone.”85 Google spokesperson Nicole Wong said, “India does value free speech and political speech, but they are weighing the harm of free speech against violence in their streets.”86 She added, “In those gray areas, it is really hard. On the one hand, we believe very strongly in political speech and, on the other hand, in India they do riot and they blow up buses.”87 In 1992 riots involving Hindus and Muslims resulted in over 1,000 deaths. Gulshan Rai of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology said, “If you are doing business here, you should follow the local law, the sentiments of the people, the culture of the country. If somebody starts abusing Lord Rama on a Web site, that could start riots.”88 In 2007 Shiv Sena supporters attacked Internet cafes near Mumbai after postings criticized the group’s founder and a seventeenth-century king revered by ethnic Marathis.89 Google took down several groups at the request of local government officials. Shailest Patel, a spokesperson for Shiv Sena, said, “This is a country with a lot of religions and sentimental values. If that censorship is not there, some people may utilize these mediums to disturb the harmony of the country, and it may lead to chaos.”90

■ Preparation Questions

1. Why is India so concerned about speech on the Internet?

2. Compare the restrictions on speech on the Internet in India with those in China.

3. Google has moved its search business to Hong Kong, services such as YouTube are blocked in China, and Orkut is not offered there. Should Google restrict its services in India?

4. Formulate a policy for Google for compliance with the new rules?

5. Should Google try to convince the Indian government to change the 2008 law or the 2011 rules?

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