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Google Sets Censorship Precedent In India 245

Posted by timothy
from the in-accordance-with-local-laws-and-privileges dept.
eldavojohn writes "Censorship varies from country to country but India, home to a sixth of the world's population, appears to be shaping up much like China. Not far behind everyone else, Google has increasingly censored websites with an incident where a very popular politician died and Google forcibly deleted and dissolved a group on Orkut where offensive comments about the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh were posted. An official from India's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology said, 'If you are doing business here, you should follow the local law, the sentiments of the people, the culture of the country. If somebody starts abusing Lord Rama on a Web site, that could start riots.' The lengthy opinion piece calls attention to the beginnings of a definitive lack of free speech online for Indian citizens. A spokeswoman for the 'Do No Evil' company explained, 'India does value free speech and political speech. But they are weighing the harm of free speech against violence in their streets.'"
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Google Sets Censorship Precedent In India

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  • Free? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Beelzebud (1361137) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @02:31AM (#30629828)
    Free Trade doesn't seem to be doing much for freedom around the world.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 03, 2010 @02:33AM (#30629846)

    "We have now recognised the necessity to the mental well-being of mankind (on which all their other well-being depends) of freedom of opinion, and freedom of the expression of opinion, on four distinct grounds; which we will now briefly recapitulate.

    First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.

    Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.

    Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience."

    Local custom or not, silencing speech is harmful to society.

  • by drdrgivemethenews (1525877) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @02:34AM (#30629852)
    Seems to me that Google and others are correct in following local law. This is not the same, however, as following the dictates of local advocates of political correctness. Doing that is simply a recipe for increasing the level of local corruption.
  • by Super Dave Osbourne (688888) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @02:35AM (#30629860)
    Google cares now, ad revenue down, don't piss off governments with freedom or speech, just fall in line and sell more ads. This is exactly why I won't use and don't encourage others to use anything related to Google, and turn off all adverts with FireFox popup and ad blocking plugins. Freedoms are only things we give up, we already have them inherently, and a love for tech device addictions and quick search results gives Google and companies like them power. There are always better choices/alternatives.
  • Re:Free? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @02:37AM (#30629866)
    But you also need to look at it that it exposes the evil in censorship. without these incidents Indian censorship might not have been widely reported so citizens wouldn't act on it, the more the individual knows that censorship is taking place the more they will fight it. It is only when censorship is not noticed that it becomes so much more harmful.
  • Do no evil. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 03, 2010 @02:38AM (#30629876)

    Except when emerging markets subtly demand it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 03, 2010 @02:48AM (#30629938)

    India needs to address this problem themselves by increasing free speech, not by trying to shut it down.

    Well, if you had a rioting mob in your street when something is posted which they don't like then you too would be more careful not to incite violence.

    It's very easy to defend free speech from your comfortable home in a stable society, but if you live in a less fortunate country then you have to take a different route to prevent people dying unnecessarily.

  • by Sir_Sri (199544) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @02:57AM (#30629996)

    Politics is far more realistic and practical than that. At some point it doesn't matter why people are dumb enough to riot, if they will, and it gets people killed (notably innocent people) then you have to be seen taking steps to stop it. And with 1.1 billion people, no matter what happens, someone is bound to get killed. Scared sacred elephant in Allahabad, there's a dozen people trampled to death. Train ride from Mumbai to Dehli there's a few people who fall of and get killed or seriously wounded- assuming the train ever actually goes.

    There are probably 700 or 800 million hindu's in India. The vast majority of whom are poorly, if at all educated. The only 'education' they have could be from a local priest who has told them whatever he bloody well feels like. Changing that to a culture that values fully free speech simply isn't going to happen in a short period of time. Heck look at ireland and blasphemy laws which just came essentially back into force. We in the 'west' (insofar as Ireland ever deserved to be counted as the west) aren't exactly immune from this either. Indians who are pro censorship are playing to a much more practical than ideological view of their country and the consequences of the world they live in. When you have a literacy rate of 60% your options aren't good, and more ideological solutions take time. A lot of time. Especially when it's in someone else's political interest to stir up a fuss every time someone says something unpopular.

    Truly free speech is an ideological myth, and as matter of practice not worth fighting for anyway - would you really want someone free to stir up a riot that kills dozens if not hundreds of people for the fun of it? For all the fuss over the cartoons of mohammed the real story is that one guy was able to cause serious personal risk to thousands of people, millions of dollars in productivity and possible property damage. He was making a statement, but one could as easily have done it solely for the purpose of stirring up a fuss, and that's not really a power you want just waved around recklessly. Whether it should cause such problems is really a different problem, in the world we live in it does cause problems and you have to cope with that. No more than in the US the president cannot declare war - power tends to require balance. The power to declare war must be balanced with the guarantee that the people either (in the british system) can choose to not pay for it, and therefore not go a long with it, or in the US system not allow it at all, the power to cause riots which can kill people and cause millions in damage, trigger diplomatic spats and risk frankly war, perhaps also needs balance.

  • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @02:59AM (#30630004)
    Yes, but the problem is it is India's fault for letting this crap happen and its also Hinduism's fault for not tolerating any criticism of their religion. No matter what you blame modern-day Christianity for, generally you can do whatever you want to Christianity and get nothing more than a boycott. About the only time you can incite modern day Christianity to (religiously-backed) violence is what they perceive as violence towards others such as in abortion clinic bombings. But those too are rare. Compare the reaction between a (most would consider pretty blasphemous) piece of art (Piss Christ) and a comic about Muhammad. How many more comics are there referencing Jesus out there that have zero reaction?

    Governments need to explain to various religions about free speech and tolerance. No matter where you stand religiously, there is no need to get offended that someone -gasp- might not want to believe the same way you do.
  • Ethical Standards (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @03:01AM (#30630026)
    Google is and has been an American corporation. They started here and grew up here. And it's time they stopped making excuses.

    When they agreed to censor the internet in China, their excuse was "If we don't do this, somebody else will." Translation: "The dollar is more important than principle." That pretty much puts the lie to their "Do No Evil" motto.

    Google needs to decide whether they really want to "do no evil" or whether they just want to make a profit. They really can't have it both ways. And by traditional Western ethical standards, censorship is EVIL.
  • by mcrbids (148650) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @03:02AM (#30630032) Journal

    Seriously, I'm beginning to question the value of completely free speech. I've spent my entire life so far in support of it, and the free marketplace, but I'm finding more and more, that both are a fiction and always have been!

    The "free" marketplace isn't free, it's a highly unstable situation that's carefully protected by a government that's surprisingly willing to impose on the "freedome" of the marketplace. Until the 1980s, government stepped in many times, repeatedly, over the years, to limit the power of the monopolies in the United States. But after about 1981 or so, we simply stopped caring. And the result has decimated our marketplace! In becoming more "free", we've simply become more monopolistic, where Wal-Mart now delivers some 30% to 50% of the consumed goods in the USA.

    This was unheard of before then, but only because the gubbmint stepped in repeatedly to limit the power of (among others) A&P, the mid-20th century equivalent of Wal-Mart. As a percentage of population, Wal-Mart is now at least 5x as big as A&P ever was at its height. Yet Wal-Mart is just one of many vertical monopolies now rearing, to the deafening roar of untrained people who rally and cry for speech and marketplaces free from the controls of the government that was otherwise busy serving their own interests. It's a sad, sad state of affairs.

    In a similar vein, I'm finding that "free speech" never existed. For over a century, there were strict controls on news organizations and reporting agencies - strict policies on libel and a general expectation of truth. This was easily enforced, because there were so few news agencies with the ability to reach a significant percentage of the population. And the result was filtered news and information of generally high-quality.

    But the Internet has changed all that. Even if strict news reporting standards were still in effect, the news organizations would have to compete with the deafening roar of blogs and other "almost news" sites (Slashdot being one of them!) and so the standards would lose all their teeth anyway.

    What journalistic standards is my completely private post written from my armchair going to be held to?

    But the end result is that any whining idiot with an opinion that sounds nice gets lots of play, and real information gets lost in the din of noise and misinformation. Without any expectation of accountability, idiots like Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly are free to spread their bile and intellectual filth to unwashed masses who haven't developed the means to filter them out, partly due to the falling standards and expectations from our public school system, which has gotten so bad that no schooling at all [unschooling.com] is often an improvement.

    Free speech is just noise without a bullshit filter. Look in your spam box for 99.97% "free speech". If society is to save itself, it will need to learn the difference between speech and honest-to-god information.

    Right now, it's not looking so good.

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@h a c k i sh.org> on Sunday January 03, 2010 @03:14AM (#30630078)

    We're talking about someone posting it on the internet, though, not anything so overtly confrontational as seeking out a group of people and shouting at them in person. Lots of Americans do post on the internet all sorts of absurd things about 9/11, from "America deserved it because of arrogance" to "America deserved it because of homosexuals" to "it was an inside job" or "a Jewish conspiracy". As far as I know, the existence of literally thousands of such websites has not incited riots.

  • Re:Do no evil. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blarkon (1712194) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @03:19AM (#30630100)
    Google is a disproof of the old saying that the "Internet Routes Around Censorship". For most people Google *is* the Internet. Unless Google's search algorithm becomes open source, we will never know what is getting hidden from us.
  • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @03:23AM (#30630112)

    Until the 1980s, government stepped in many times, repeatedly, over the years, to limit the power of the monopolies in the United States. But after about 1981 or so, we simply stopped caring.

    But the problem wasn't that we stopped enforcing anti-trust acts, it was that we deliberately -helped- the monopolies and harmed the general public with such rulings as software patents, the DMCA, etc.

    And the result has decimated our marketplace! In becoming more "free", we've simply become more monopolistic, where Wal-Mart now delivers some 30% to 50% of the consumed goods in the USA.

    ...And in all honesty theres nothing wrong with Wal-Mart delivering most of the goods because Wal-Mart is a monopoly not because of government intervention or lack of the ability to compete, Wal-Mart is simply willing to take risks and deliver what the masses want.

    Wal-Mart has competition with a lot of other stores: Target aims to be a more aesthetically pleasing form of Wal-Mart with more specialty goods and generally a more "upscale" atmosphere at the price of a slight bit of higher prices. Costco aims to save consumers more money by allowing them to buy in bulk. And there are many other smaller competitors.

    The reason why Wal-Mart has thrived is because it provides a large variety of cheap (in both meanings of the word) goods and is willing to expand into smaller areas. Its a lot more convenient for someone to go to Wal-Mart that has most everything in stock then to go to a specialty store only to find that it would take 2-3 weeks to get in a product that provides little to no price savings. Now, thats not to say that specialty stores are bad or don't provide what customers need, not at all, but they are specialty stores, the things that Wal-Mart isn't going to carry you can pick up there.

    In a similar vein, I'm finding that "free speech" never existed. For over a century, there were strict controls on news organizations and reporting agencies - strict policies on libel and a general expectation of truth. This was easily enforced, because there were so few news agencies with the ability to reach a significant percentage of the population. And the result was filtered news and information of generally high-quality.

    The information was high quality if you wanted one group's opinion, yes. The thing is, today we try to cover news stories from all possible angles. Back during WWII no effort was made to try to tell the war from Germany's or Japan's point of view, today every conflict even recent ones such as Iraq and Afghanistan have reporters trying to find out both sides of the story. No longer is it ok to just blindly accept the government's viewpoint.

    But the Internet has changed all that. Even if strict news reporting standards were still in effect, the news organizations would have to compete with the deafening roar of blogs and other "almost news" sites (Slashdot being one of them!) and so the standards would lose all their teeth anyway

    That is because that is what people want to hear. They don't care about the big picture which is what journalism used to be about, they care about individuals and their viewpoints. They want to hear history as told from the diaries of the people who lived through it, not from the history book.

    But the end result is that any whining idiot with an opinion that sounds nice gets lots of play, and real information gets lost in the din of noise and misinformation. Without any expectation of accountability, idiots like Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly are free to spread their bile and intellectual filth to unwashed masses who haven't developed the means to filter them out, partly due to the falling standards and expectations from our public school system, which has gotten so bad that no schooling at all is often an improvement.

    And that is the way it always has been, we jus

  • Re:Free? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TubeSteak (669689) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @03:31AM (#30630146) Journal

    What makes you think the citizens will act on their knowledge and fight censorship?
    In many countries the majority of the population wants certain topics censored.

    If the USA didn't have the 1st Amendment, I doubt we'd have such free speech.
    I mean, the religious types managed to get alcohol banned for 13 years.
    Just think of what they'd have done to words they didn't like.

  • Re:Now what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Runaway1956 (1322357) * on Sunday January 03, 2010 @03:32AM (#30630162) Homepage Journal

    "Google forcibly deleted and dissolved a group on Orkut"

    Wow. Really? They just marched a batallion of Google soldiers in, with fixed bayonets, and FORCIBLY took the site over?

    FFS - how about dropping all the drama bullshit, and just say that Google deleted a fucking page on their site. Drama queens suck diseased donkey balls. Or, diseased dog nuts, if donkey balls are in short supply.

    I don't like censorship. With censorship, I wouldn't be allowed to point out that the deceased Senator Ted Kennedy was a fucking moron, a thief, a murderer, and a fraud. It could be that this deceased Indian dude was just like Senator Ted. If so, the world has the right to know.

  • by BikeHelmet (1437881) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @03:33AM (#30630170) Journal

    90% likeliness would be that you would be ignored.

    I actually live close to Seattle, so it's probably closer to 100%. Or maybe some people would agree with me.

    But this...

    You need a lot of emotion to start a riot, and it simply doesn't exist in the US at this point in time. The last time the necessary amount of emotional energy existed in the US was after Katrina, but luckily nobody lit the match to start riots.

    Is true. Who can say how much emotional energy and turmoil is churning in India right now? I certainly can't.

    I think my point stands - for a comparison to be valid it has to be similar situations to individual people.

  • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @03:50AM (#30630230)
    You mean something like the Westboro Baptist Church, the group that goes to soldiers funerals with big signs that say that the soldier's death was punishment from God because the US tolerates homosexuality? Oddly enough they have never caused a real riot, yeah, some people tried to beat them up and some guy tried to set fire to one of their garages but that was it. No riots, no nothing. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westboro_Baptist_Church [wikipedia.org] for more info
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 03, 2010 @03:54AM (#30630254)

    Free speech is just noise without a bullshit filter. Look in your spam box for 99.97% "free speech". If society is to save itself, it will need to learn the difference between speech and honest-to-god information.

    Spam is _NOT_ "free speech".

    Free speech protects speech it does not provide an audience.
    (aka, the right for you to swing your fist ends at my nose.)

  • Honesty (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 03, 2010 @04:20AM (#30630330)

    Well, at least they're being honest enough to admit that this is a violation of free speech. (As opposed to those spineless cowards who think that 'free speech' means 'free speech ... as long as I agree with it'.)

  • the real problem (Score:4, Insightful)

    by belmolis (702863) <billposerNO@SPAMalum.mit.edu> on Sunday January 03, 2010 @04:33AM (#30630358) Homepage

    If somebody starts abusing Lord Rama on a Web site, that could start riots

    This is a huge problem. Any country in which people will riot because someone criticizes their religion, political party, or favorite celebrity is a country in which people don't understand the notion of a civil society.

  • by gibbsjoh (186795) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @06:39AM (#30630756)

    Sadly this is a problem all over the world, not just India - look at Northern Ireland, for example...

  • Boo-hiss (Score:2, Insightful)

    by pubwvj (1045960) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @09:12AM (#30631180)
    Every time Google does this I lose respect for them. Shame on Google.
  • by corbettw (214229) <.corbettw. .at. .yahoo.com.> on Sunday January 03, 2010 @11:33AM (#30631868) Journal

    If I go into a large crowd somewhere in the US and start shouting that you guys deserved 9/11 for your arrogance, not only am I likely to start a riot - I'm also likely to get beaten to death or shot.

    Have you actually tried this? Because I've seen street protesters saying this exact same thing and the worst that's happened to them is they get a bunch of dirty looks (which is also a kind of speech). Sure, if there's a big political thing in town, the cops will arrest you and everyone within a hundred feet of you to "prevent a riot", but that's a whole different problem in and of itself. The general populace here is typically very tolerant of unpopular opinions.

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