Facebook and Google are set to stand trial in a Delhi court tomorrow for failing to censor offensive religious material on their social networks. If convicted, executives from both companies could face jail time, along with hefty fines, highlighting the risks taken while attempting to expand social networking presence in India.
Facebook presently has 46 million active users in India, up 132% from last year, and with China on lockdown, the company sees potential in India's 1.2 billion people. Ten percent of India's population is online, and this number is expected to reach 300 million by 2014, hence the risk-taking. Last year, a Dehli district court gave 21 social networking sites 36 hours to remove religiously offensive content from their servers, and the latest legal issue in Delhi further highlights the sort of micro-censorship occurring in India. Sandeep Aggarwal, a former Silicon Valley research analyst, states that "internet companies have to follow the local laws of the land. But India can't afford to send a message that unreasonable censorship of the Internet has started."
Aggarwal predicts that internet industry in India could generate 1.5 million jobs and $45 billion over the next few years, but not if companies are bogged down with court dates. The hearing tomorrow at New Delhi's Patiala House, will be mostly procedural, and executives from Google and Facebook aren't required to attend. I wonder exactly how the "jail time" mentioned would play out, if there is a conviction.
Interestingly, there were recently protests in the Assam Districts of India, after Facebook took down all sites featuring the word "chutia," which translates to "c***" in English.