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Google, Bing, Yahoo to ‘auto-block’ pre-natal sex determination ads

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Search engines of Google, Yahoo and Microsoft will soon “auto-block” all kinds of pre-natal sex determination ads and prevent users from viewing them. According to a Supreme Court Judgment reviewed by Bar & Bench, the three companies were ordered to develop a method to auto-block both existing ads and ads that might appear in the future.

Even if a user tries to search for services or companies providing sex determination via Google, Microsoft, or Yahoo search engines, he/she will be promoted with a block message stating that such practices are prohibited in India. To supplement this, the Supreme Court ordered the companies to block search results of certain “proposed lists of words (or keywords)”.

Earlier judgments and cases: Note that this isn’t the first time that the judiciary has asked search engines to delist sex determination ads. After the court had directed the search engines to not show any pre-natal sex determination test ads in their search results in an interim order in January 2015, they were called out for not complying with the order in July this year. These included displaying ads for sex determination kits and clinics which perform them.

Earlier, the advocates appearing for Google, Microsoft and Yahoo argued that it was technically not feasible to block all keywords related to sex determination as it would affect searches for content that are even remotely connected to such words. However, the court criticized the companies for not being able to stop the ads and said that they could not continue “illegal activity in the name of being an intermediary”, as indicated by this ANI report in July.

The PIL: The PIL was filed by Sabu Mathew George in 2008 and the litigant sought a ban on online content of pre-natal sex determination which are in violation of the provisions of the pre-conception and pre-natal diagnostic techniques (prohibition of sex selection) Act, 1994. Search giants Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have been bought up as respondents in the suit along with the central government.

However, the central government argued that although pre-natal sex determination is an offence in India it is not so in other countries since the information listed in these websites is hosted offshore and is aimed at a worldwide audience. Therefore blocking such websites may not be feasible and desirable, a 2010 counter affidavit read when the matter was brought up in December 2014. 

The law: According to the prohibition of sex selection Act, any person who puts an advertisement for pre-natal and pre-conception sex determination facilities in the form of a notice, circular, label, wrapper or any document through media in electronic or print form can be imprisoned for up to three years and fined Rs 10,000. (PDF here)

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