Google's war on nude photos goes against user rights

by Prasad Krishna last modified Mar 09, 2015 01:57 AM
Yesterday, Google announced that starting March 23, 2015 users will be unable to share sexually explicit content on its blogging platform -- Blogger.

The article by Sahil Mohan Gupta published by India Today on February 25, 2015 quotes Sunil Abraham.

In a country like India, such content generally causes a 'storm in teacup' this move might be welcomed, however, experts say that it goes against the tenets of free speech.

Interestingly, Google is not alone, but all the major Internet players indulge in such draconian practices. Facebook cracks down on sexually explicit content on its platform while Apple also does not allow any app that has anything close to pornography on its iOS app store.

The bigger issue is that these companies allow anything when they are in the process of attracting users, but turn turtle the moment they attain a level of stickiness with their user-base. Their U-turns are often on frivolous grounds, which go against the very tenets of freedom of speech and human rights.

Sunil Abraham, the executive director of The Center of Internet and Society tells that legally big Internet companies like Google are well within their rights to make such modifications.

"According to US and Indian law they 'can' censor as per their own terms of use which is based on contract law," explains Abraham.

"Unfortunately, most of the networked public sphere has been privatized by near monopolies. They are able to use contract law to clamp down on human rights," he adds.

There, however, is light at the end of the tunnel. According to Abraham, the only way states can guarantee human rights is by treating these intermediaries like utilities with narrow exceptions through regulations.

That said, this approach is not without risks and advises extreme caution. "Unfortunately, this will reduce the agile innovation that these near-monopolies contribute to our information society," says Abraham.

Alternatively, increased competition and amendments to contract law will also help in curtailing the ability of companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft to deny user rights.

In the past, Apple notoriously blocked Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Fiore's app on the App Store. It was reportedly making editorial calls on the content of the app.

"We've reviewed NewsToons and determined that we cannot post this version of your iPhone application to the App Store because it contains content that ridicules public figures and is in violation of Section 3.3.14 from the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement which states:

Applications may be rejected if they contain content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, sounds, etc.) that in Apple's reasonable judgment may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory," replied an Apple iPhone developer program representative to Fiore while rejecting his app.

The Electronic Frontier Federation (EFF), which is a non-profit organization that helps defend digital rights feels Apple's App store policies are outrageous and bad for both developer and users alike. Due to this, it has not even released an iOS app.

Google for its part right now claims, " We'll still allow nudity if the content offers a substantial public benefit, for example in artistic, educational, documentary, or scientific contexts."  However, there is no reason why it could not have a change of heart.

The new rules also mean that now Google will not only act as a platform owner but also an entity that will decide what is art and what is good public taste.

Facebook, the dominant force in the sphere of social networking, has been for years criticized for its draconian policies regarding terms of use. It is also known to clampdown on freedom of speech.

Last year, even Twitter cracked down on explicit sexual Vines. Though Twitter allows users to share explicit content if they properly mark such content as sensitive.

Filed under: