While India is celebrating its 61st Independence Day today, among other problems, Gender Inequality and Gender Imbalance is a major problem for the future of India. And somewhere between the lines of the so-called non-intrusive ads that you see on web pages, techniques for sex-selection for an unborn child is being promoted. Or so thinks Sabu Mathew George, the petitioner in a case filed in Supreme Court of India against web advertising and search companies like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.
Gender Imbalance is a major problem that faces India in the next few decades. Although the Indian society at large is still unaware of the problem, from the statistics and ground work that I’ve seen while working with Men Against Violence & Abuse, the problem is a severe one and could become adverse in the coming decades. Gender Imbalance is a man-made phenomenon in India where an unborn child’s sex is determined before birth and if the child is a female, the pregnancy is aborted. It is this ruthless murder of unborn females that in some states the sex ratio for males to females is less than 0.7
But that is not what we are here to talk. Sabu Mathew George has filed a petition in the Supreme Court of India that certain ads displayed on search results and web advertise the process of sex-selection. The Supreme Court has sent notices in this regard to Google, Yahoo and Microsoft in this regard and would like to hear their side of the story. The Indian law’s on Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act. states that advertisement of products and techniques to aid in the selection of an unborn child's sex is an offense. Thus, advertisement of such products are not shown in Print-media, TV and Radio ads.
India’s Health Ministry and Ministry of Communications & IT have also been made respondents in the case because they have been non-responsive in stopping such ads. It should be interesting to see how these tech companies respond. If you look at it from a technical standpoint, such ads could have been easily spotted and not shown by these companies. There is already a procedure by which the content in ads is checked by these companies and can prevent such ads to be shown. Even the search results are moderated according to local laws and standards and it isn’t uncommon that the Chinese government have successfully changed the behavior of these companies.
May be these tech companies haven’t realized the magnitude of the problem or just ignored the law. But we are surely going to find out, if the Supreme Court holds them liable for such instances. Or can web companies just say that they are mediators and not content owners and get away.
Google had earlier stated in its Public Policy Blog that, “Think about the telephone system. We don't hold the telephone company liable when two callers use the phone lines to plan a crime. For the same reasons, it's a fundamental principle of the Internet that you don't blame the neutral intermediaries for the actions of their customers. Rather, the standard recognized worldwide is that Internet intermediaries are responsible to take action when they are put on notice of unlawful content through proper legal channels.”
Now that’s as awful analogy!! Telephone system is a one-to-one or conference system, where you don’t have your comments recorded for the entire world to look at. Neither can it be technically feasible nor morally acceptable to hear every call being made. Whereas content on the Internet, that is displayed as search results can very well be observed and banned, like has been done in China. In India, you have laws to stop it in other forms of media, then why should the Internet be any different?? There are obvious “report abuse” links to results and web displayed content. But the utter slowness in the response of such services is another reason why the system needs to be fixed on both the government side, tech-side and the users-side.