New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp. (Bing) to not carry ads offering prenatal sex determination services and also asked them to redact any such ads if they came up in so-called sponsored searches.
The direction came in an interim order. The court will hear the matter concerning searches throwing up information on such services (as opposed to ads) on 11 February.
Google said it is already in compliance with the orders of the Supreme Court. “In India, we do not allow ads for the promotion of prenatal gender determination or preconception sex selection,” Google said in an emailed statement.
Microsoft said it has not seen the court’s order yet. “We have not been served with the court’s order at this time. However, Microsoft advertising policy on BING or MSN.com has always prohibited search advertisements in India relating to prenatal sex determination and continues to comply with the PC-PNDT Act,” a spokesperson said.
A Yahoo spokesperson declined to comment.
Prenatal sex determination, which sometimes results in female foeticide, is a crime in India according to the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostics Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994.
The government launched the Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao (Save and educate the girl) campaign in Haryana last week. The state has the worst sex ratio of 879 women for every 1000 men.
Lawyers for the technology companies sought to establish a distinction between content and information on one side, and ads on the other—an argument that they believe will bolster their case that blocking keywords in searches will render such searches ineffective.
Lawyer Shyam Divan, representing Google, said that there was a “distinction” between “search and information” and “promotion and advertisement”.
The court said on Wednesday that it wasn’t issuing any orders (yet) on content but said there “shouldn’t be any kind of incitement” to violate the law in the form of information related to sex-determination.
The court asked the companies to “cooperate” with the government to ensure that such content could be removed from the web.
The government had sought information on efforts taken by the companies to block such content and keywords related to sex determination. “You provide the information…They will tell …, what to block,” the court added.
Lawyer Sanjay Parikh, appearing for petitioner Sabu Mathew George, said that such content is still widely available on searches conducted on search engines. In 2008, George filed a public interest litigation alleging that search engines were violating the PCPNDT Act.