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Facebook, Netflix face fresh scrutiny as India tightens grip

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India joined the global regulatory push to rein in Silicon Valley technology giants, tightening rules that govern how social media and streaming companies do business in the world's biggest democracy.

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The new rules will require the likes of Facebook and Twitter to take down unlawful content quicker, Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said in an online briefing Thursday. Streaming services such as Netflix, YouTube and Amazon.com's Prime Video face stricter rules over content.

Already under scrutiny from Australia and Europe to their home turf of the U.S., the tech giants can now add their most important emerging market to the list of countries whose regulators are paying closer attention. Policy changes have the potential to slow down the companies in a market that's already the largest for some of them in terms of the number of users.

"Governments everywhere are trying to take control of the free flow of information and not relinquish it to any one social or technology company," said Ashutosh Sharma, research director at Forrester Research Inc. "We're moving towards a world where social media will be regulated in some form or the other."

The new rules replace a previous code from 2011. Draft versions that have been circulating recently have attracted criticism from freedom-of-speech activists and technology trade groups concerned the rules will result in increased censorship and reduced user privacy. The rules take effect immediately, though social-media providers will get three months before they need to start complying.

India's fast-growing digital economy is headed toward 1 billion users by 2025, prompting the deep-pocketed corporations to battle for market share in everything from online retail and digital payments to messaging and streaming.

Facebook's namesake social network is used by 410 million people in India and its WhatsApp messaging service by 530 million, said Prasad, the minister of electronics and information technology. YouTube has 448 million users, Instagram 210 million and Twitter 17.5 million, he said.

Besides the global giants, the new rules -- called Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code -- are set to affect a swath of Indian startups. Beyond streaming and messaging, the code will also set guidelines for digital publishers of news and current-affairs content.The rules require social-media companies to appoint a chief compliance officer, a grievance officer, and a nodal officer, all resident in India, and publish monthly compliance reports. They will be required to resolve user grievances within 15 days.

The new guidelines follow the Indian government's dispute with Twitter over allegedly inflammatory tweets supporting farmer protests, with the messaging service refusing to comply with certain blocking orders. Meanwhile, an Amazon Prime Video original series "Tandav" was ordered by authorities to be re-edited following protests over its depiction of Hindu gods and goddesses.

Published : February 26, 2021

By : Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Saritha Rai