Microsoft, Yahoo help keep India away from porn?

Report suggests Microsoft and Yahoo are among the search engines complying with a new Indian law that offers severe penalties for allowing access to "lascivious" content.

Birds do it. Bees do it. It's just that these days in India it may be a little harder to watch online images of human beings doing it.

Sex is often a slightly thorny subject (well, maybe except in France). However, varying attitudes around the world to varying sexual practices mean search engines must adjust their positions accordingly.

So it may sadden some to hear of a Guardian special investigation that appears to have unearthed evidence of Microsoft and Yahoo search engines complying with a new Indian law offering severe punishment for the display of "lascivious" content.

I know one man's lascivious is another man's oblivious. But this law, based on a 150-year-old statute (section 292, if you have your Indian penal code tucked about your person) specifically targets access to obscenity.

A picture from Ramoji Film City in Andhra Pradesh. It is the world's largest integrated film studio complex. CC Shashi Bellamkonda/Flickr

It helpfully defines obscenity as "any content that is lascivious and that will appeal to prurient interest or the effect of which is to tend to deprave or corrupt the minds of those who are likely to see, read or hear the same."

It's a nice word, corruption. One that often seems to have the words "government" and "politician" wrapped around it. Still, we're talking about sex here. Specifically, the vaguely pornographic kind.

The Guardian investigation suggests Microsoft and Yahoo have already taken steps to avoid the rather stiff punishments. If a search engine (or, indeed, Internet cafe) isn't careful about what sites it makes available, its officers might face three years in jail and a fine of up to 500,000 rupees (just over $10,000).

Microsoft's Bing, Yahoo's search engine, and even the Yahoo-owned Flickr have reportedly ensured that the safe search facilities on their sites cannot be disabled, something they also do in the pristine territories of Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

I do not intend to suggest this new law will encourage more Indian professionals to seek employment in Silicon Valley. And I cannot imagine that Indian moral fiber is anything other than sturdy and cleansing. I just sometimes worry when politicians seem to have nothing better to do than to interfere in people's most private affairs.

The Indian media is, according to London's Times, sometimes a little slow in reporting the sexual peccadilloes of, well, politicians--even when their indiscretions are widely known.

Perhaps that will change in reaction to this law.

This week, for example, an Indian television news channel ran footage, allegedly of the 86-year-old governor of the Andhra Pradesh state in bed with several women to whom he was not betrothed. While the governor immediately resigned, you might wonder how it is that this footage was not deemed "lascivious."

Some of you might wish to suggest that the "law is an ass." But perhaps it's best to first search Bing and check whether "ass" might have lascivious overtones in certain parts of the world.

 

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