So much for “The Web, The Way YOU Want It“. After Microsoft’s search engine Bing invited criticism for restricting access to explicit content, it’s Yahoo’s turn: a week ago, Yahoo turned the Safe Search option permanently on for Indian users for its photo sharing site Flickr, wrote Pluggd.in. Yahoo is thus significantly restricting the way its users access the its service, hypocritically, not giving its users the right to choose how they view Flickr content.
Local terms of service will now apply to users in Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea and India, and their default search option is Safe Search, which cannot be modified. Safe Search filters out any content and groups flagged ‘moderate’ or ‘restricted’ by Flickr photo owners.
According to Flickr, restricted content is that which “you probably wouldn’t show to your mum, and definitely shouldn’t be seen by kids.” A moderate level of search is now applicable, and users have the onus categorising their photo and video content as Safe, Moderate or Restricted but moderators can change this according to what they deem is appropriate.
The Legal Situation
We’re wondering about why Yahoo really had to do this: according to the India’s IT Act, Flickr is an intermediary, and has no control over the kind of content that its users upload. Indian law holds the user and not the platform/intermediary liable for damaging content as we saw in the case of Orkut versus Ajit D who lost a case against the Shiv Sena for starting a hate community. What is your opinion about censorship on the Internet – do Indians need it to protect themselves?
Mapped To Usernames, Not IP Addresses
The Safe Search option is permanently enabled only for those with a Yahoo India username, and is not on the basis of the IP address. If the site wanted to tune the photo sharing service to ensure it stays within legal boundaries, it should have mapped IP addresses to the filter and not usernames. Many of us own e-mail addresses and accounts on Yahoo.co.uk and Yahoo.com, which allow us to toggle the Safe Search option can be modified. It takes a few minutes for an Indian users to set up a new account on other country’s domain name and log in to Flickr to gain freedom from censorship. It is the same case with Yahoo Images’ Safe Search toggle option.
We have asked Yahoo the reason for the move now, since online pornography has been a punishable offense according to the Indian IT act and is not a new amendment. We will update this post with the company response. Update: The company chose not to respond to our questions.