Google search engines are not a middleman under new IT rules, says co

Global tech giant Google filed an application with the Delhi High Court (HC) on Wednesday, seeking interim protection against its declaration as a “social media intermediary.”

Google has asked to quash part of an April ordinance that “misrepresents” its search engine as a social media middleman that must comply with new information technology (IT) rules 2021.

Experts agreed that it might be helpful for Google to ask not to be identified as a social media intermediary.

“Search engines are a reflection of the content and information available on the Internet. Although we maintain a consistent policy on removing objectionable content from search results, the Delhi HC ordinance imposed certain obligations that would incorrectly classify Google search as a social media intermediary, ”a Google spokesperson said. .

The Delhi HC had identified Google search as an “intermediary” in April in a case in which photos of a woman were uploaded to a pornographic website without her consent. Despite court orders, the content could not be fully removed from the Global Web.

The order of April 20 ordered “search engines Google Search, Yahoo Search, Microsoft Bing, DuckDuckGo to strive to use automated tools, proactively identify and globally disable access to any content exactly the same as the offending content that may appear on any other website / online platform “.

“We have filed an appeal against this part of the order and look forward to explaining the steps we are taking to remove objectionable content from Google search results,” the spokesperson added.

Google’s claim is that a search engine has a different role compared to a social network intermediary such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. He also submitted to the court in April that on the issue of removing content or blocking access, the search engine’s role is responsive and limited to disabling access to specific uniform resource locators from search results, once reported by the government. agencies or court ordered. Search engines do not have a proactive role.

“The single judge misinterpreted and misapplied the new 2021 IT rules to the appellant’s search engine. In addition, the Single Judge confused various sections of the Informatics Act and the separate rules prescribed under it, and adopted model orders combining all these offenses and provisions, which is contrary to the law. law, ”Google said in its appeal against the April 20 judgment.

He further said that the April ordinance issued “instructions that would empower local police, criminal and civil courts to issue instructions for the removal of websites and content, ignoring that the Computer Law balances freedom of speech and expression with powers to regulate content by enacting a comprehensive code “.

The court sent notices to the Center, the Delhi government, the Association of Internet Service Providers of India, Facebook, the porn site and the woman, on whose plea the April ruling stepped in, and requested their responses to Google’s plea by July 25.

The IT rules (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) 2021, published on February 25, detail new guidelines for platforms identified as intermediaries.

Legal experts said there was some merit in Google’s argument.

The new IT rules 2021 define a social media intermediary as an entity that mainly or only allows online interaction between two or more users and allows them to create, download, share, disseminate, modify or access information using its services. .

“The exceptions to this rule are intermediaries, who primarily enable commercial or commercial transactions, provide access to the Internet or computer networks, or are a search engine, an online encyclopedia, an online directory or a suggestion tool, email service, or online storage service. Said Sajai Singh, Partner, J Sagar Associates.

“If the court were to accept the point of view proposed by Google, then, although it may be an intermediary, with a subscription base above the expected thresholds, it could benefit from some relief in this. which concerns the appointment of various officers, which represents an important intermediary the media has to appoint. I suppose the government can discuss other obligations such as due diligence and withdrawal requirements, “Singh added.

Atul Pandey, partner at Khaitan & Co, said: “Google’s claim that it is not a social media intermediary under the new 2021 IT rules, but rather a search engine, may have merit, given that Google cannot be interpreted as a “media company with more than 5 million registered users (which is the threshold for being treated as a social media intermediary. While Google has, in the past, conceded to be an intermediary under IT rules, given its role as a search engine, it may not be considered a social media intermediary. ”

In the April order, the court noted Google’s argument that “intermediaries that run search engines are not ‘publishers’ and only ‘index’ existing information into line and, to this extent, have only a limited role, due to the automated mode of operation of It was also underlined that the legal framework requires that the Internet be kept free from any editorial intervention ”.

Rosemary S. Bishop