Google Says to Continue ‘Illegal Content’ Removal in India

Google Inc. (GOOG) will “continue to remove” in India content that is illegal or breaks the company’s terms of service, the owner of the world’s most popular search engine said, a day after a minister asked social media operators to better manage content on their sites.

The Internet company said services such as YouTube and the social networking site Google+ “help users to express themselves and share different points of view,” according to an e-mailed statement from the Mountain View, California-based company’s local unit.

India has stepped up scrutiny of Internet postings and mobile communications after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks that left 166 dead, and bomb blasts in Mumbai and New Delhi this year. Communications and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal yesterday said the government asked companies including Google and Facebook Inc. to block offensive material, especially content that could hurt religious sentiments of some Indians.

“The IT act gives the government some power by placing an obligation on the websites to deal with defamatory material, so there is a platform,” Prashant Bhushan, a New Delhi-based Supreme Court lawyer and a public interest litigator, said in a telephone interview today. “But it cannot be done by the government. It must be done by an independent authority.”

Religious Divide

India, home to more than 138 million Muslims among its majority-Hindu population, will evolve stricter rules to ensure religious sentiments aren’t hurt by Internet postings, Sibal said, without elaborating. The government has held at least six meetings since Sept. 5 with companies including Google and Facebook, the minister said.

India’s Muslims, who make up about 13 percent of the world’s most-populous country after China, are the largest religious minority that also includes Christians, Buddhists and Jains among others. A sectarian divide has fueled decades of violent riots in Asia’s third-largest economy.

Facebook’s number of active accounts in India jumped 37 percent to 38 million in the last six months, according to socialbakers.com, which tracks user data at the Palo Alto, California-based company. That’s the third-highest behind the 156 million in the U.S. and 40.8 million in Indonesia.

Kumiko Hidaka, a spokeswoman at Facebook, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

South Korea is also stepping up scrutiny of online media. The Korea Communications Standards Commission has set up a new media information monitoring team that will monitor and censor social networking sites, mobile applications and online ads, according to a Dec. 1 statement from the regulator.

‘Free Society’

“We believe that access to information is the foundation of a free society,” Google India Pvt. said in the statement. “Google Search helps spread knowledge, enabling people to find out about almost anything by typing a few words into a computer.”

Google last month reported a 23 percent decline in the number of times law-enforcement officials worldwide requested content to be removed from its services in the first half, from a year earlier. Still, the number of such requests more than doubled in India, according to the data.

“Where content is illegal or breaks our terms of service we will continue to remove it,” Google said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ketaki Gokhale in Mumbai at kgokhale@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Tighe at mtighe4@bloomberg.net

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