Google has bowled a googly to the centre’s efforts to crackdown on tech giants on the internet. While appealing another case, Google moved the Delhi High Court on Wednesday seeking protection from being declared as a ‘social media intermediary.’
“We are a search engine and not a social media intermediary,” Google’s lawyer told the court.
Google’s interjection assumes significance against the backdrop of the central government’s crackdown on social media giants under the IT Rules 2021 which came into force last week. The rules seek to enforce many stringent measures on social media intermediaries if they are to retain their ‘intermediary’ status (and not be held responsible for any material that is posted by users on their platform), including steps like tracing messages to find who first send it, as well as posting nodal officers who will enforce orders from the government to remove posts it finds objectionable.
It was argued that the IT Rules 2021 define social media intermediaries as platforms that enable online interactions, or allow for creation and uploading of content. While Google was a search engine aggregator and hence an intermediary, it was not a social media intermediary that would come under the purview of the 2021 IT rules, the US company claimed in court.
The court has issued notice to the Centre to respond to the petition.
Google’s plea came while it was challenging a Delhi court’s order from April which termed it a ‘social media’ intermediary in a case filed by a girl who said that her private pictures were taken from her social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram and posted on a porn website without her consent. The court ordered Google to remove the post, and other similar flagged posts globally within 24 hours.
Google’s lawyer said while it had no issues in removing a certain post, it has problems with the nature of the court order which billed it a ‘social media intermediary’ as well as the order to remove posts globally. “Some content may be offensive to Indian law but not offensive outside India, so a blanket order to remove the content globally can’t be issued,” he said.
The new IT rules have been in the headlines over the government’s move to crackdown on social media liberties, something activists say will spell the end of freedom of speech and expression online in the country. WhatsApp, India’s leading short messaging service, has already filed a case against the implementation of the new rules arguing it was unconstitutional and infringes on the “privacy of our users.” Google’s latest spin will muddy the waters further.