Google Removes Content in India Deemed Objectionable After Civil Lawsuit

Google Inc. removed content from its India domains that was deemed objectionable by a New Delhi district court after a civil lawsuit against the owner of the world’s largest search engine.

The material was blocked from India search results, YouTube, Blogger and the social-networking site Orkut, said Gaurav Bhaskar, a spokesman for Google India. The content was deleted from domains .in and .co.in, while remaining accessible from other countries, Bhaskar said today. Google can’t take down content that appears on websites owned by other companies and individuals, he said.

India is stepping up scrutiny of Internet postings and mobile communications as it tries to eliminate provocative comments and curb discord between religious groups. The Hindu- majority South Asian country is home to more than 138 million Muslims, comprising about 13 percent of the world’s second- largest population.

“This step is in accordance with Google’s long-standing policy of responding to court orders,” the company said in an e-mailed statement today.

The statement didn’t provide details about the lawsuit or the content that was removed, and Bhaskar didn’t elaborate.

Facebook, Microsoft

The order follows a civil complaint filed by Mufti Aijaz Arshad Quasmi, an Indian activist who seeks the removal of videos and images that could be seen as offensive to Muslims, his lawyer Santosh Pandey said today.

The other companies named in the complaint -- Facebook Inc., Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO) and Microsoft Corp. -- have taken the position that they don’t have control over the content found objectionable, Pandey said.

The court yesterday gave the companies 15 days to submit compliance reports. The next hearing will take place on March 1.

Amber Allman, a spokeswoman for Yahoo, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment. Kumiko Hidaka, a spokeswoman for Menlo Park, California-based Facebook, didn’t respond to an e-mail. Debjani Mukherji, a Hyderabad-based spokeswoman for Microsoft, didn’t immediately respond to an e- mail seeking comment.

Google’s deletions are in accordance with company policy of disabling illegal content on its property to comply with local laws, Bhaskar said.

Another Complaint

Google and Facebook are challenging a separate, criminal complaint about offensive content in the Delhi High Court. The next hearings will be Feb. 14 and 15.

“We believe that access to information is the foundation of a free and prosperous society,” the company said in a separate statement. “Where content is illegal or breaks our terms of service, we will continue to remove it.”

The Information Technology Act of 2008 gives the government authority to order portals to block sites and requires companies to designate a point of contact for receiving those requests.

India had about 89 million people using the Web at the end of 2010, compared with more than 450 million in China, the world’s largest Internet market, according to the International Telecommunication Union in Geneva.

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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