Big Tech Companies Hit Legal Problems In India

Global internet companies, which have seen explosive growth in India as hundreds of millions of people have accessed the network over the past few years, now find themselves in a difficult place. Some, like Google and Facebook, have in common plowing more than $10 billion into the country and counted among their largest markets, suddenly found themselves struggling to balance the rights and privacy of those who used them with the relentless demands of a government is increasingly aggressive.

“All of these companies have a large user base in India and are trying to make money from them,” said Chima from Access Now. “When that happens, you are more dependent on the government to follow the rules and regulations of the country. It puts you at their mercy. “

Some of the companies are reported “Disillusioned” and rethinking expansion plans in this country even though it has growth potential and is still more accessible than China even with escalating authoritarianism.

But in general, American platforms seem to be falling short.

A Google spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that it has appointed three complaints and compliance officers in India under the rules it requires companies to do. Last month, the company released its first monthly compliance report under the new rules, which revealed the number of complaints it received and the action it took.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment but did reported Designate compliance officers and resolve complaints as required by the rules. Head of the company’s operations in India recently told local press that “it makes sense to have an accountability framework and harmful content rules”.

Netflix vice president in charge of content for the country speak India emphasizes that “the goals of the government and the goals of the [digital streaming] the industry is about doing what’s best for consumers and creators,” but the company has been quiet about the rules. Netflix declined to comment on the filing, but people familiar with the company’s thinking told BuzzFeed News that it has indeed hired a complaints officer and set up an internal complaint resolution process. They also say that Netflix now displays content descriptors and age ratings for shows and movies, something the new rules require streaming services to do.

“Prime Video has implemented the necessary systems and implemented relevant processes to comply with the New Rule within the time specified by the government,” an Amazon Prime Video spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, adding: adds that the company believes compliance with the new rules “is not a static obligation, but an ongoing process. ”

This does not mean that the platforms are fully operational.

In May, the first day the new rules went into effect, WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned instant messaging app with more than 500 million users in the country, to sue The Indian government on parts of the rule forced the company to break the encryption of the app and invade people’s privacy.

A WhatsApp spokesperson told BuzzFeed News at the time: “Civil society and technical experts around the world have repeatedly argued that asking to ‘follow’ private messages breaks the code. end-to-end and lead to real abuse. “WhatsApp is committed to protecting the privacy of people’s private messages and we will continue to do all we can under Indian law to do so.”

The reason WhatsApp was able to do this is that the rules were passed through an executive order, which means they don’t go through the usual congressional process needed to pass legislation. That leaves them with legal challenges. “This is the first time in any liberal democracy that big rules like this have been enacted without going through an elected legislator,” Chima said. Choudhary, a lawyer from New York, told BuzzFeed News: “I think going to court is the right strategy. “It buys them time.”

But other major platforms disagree. In June, Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of legal, policy, trust and safety, speak that litigation is a “blatant tool” when asked if the company plans to challenge India in the courts at RightsCon, a digital rights conference.

“It’s a very delicate balance to draw when you want to actually be in court versus when you want to negotiate and try to really make sure the government understands the perspective you’re presenting.” , said Gadde. “Because I think you can lose a lot of control when you end up in litigation. You definitely don’t know what’s going to happen.” She added that having an “open dialogue” is important.

However, that doesn’t mean Twitter hasn’t resisted. For most of this year, the company has been at the center of a Tug with the Indian government on censorship in general and IT rules in particular.

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