The Supreme Court has asked the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to set up a nodal agency to help ensure search engines do not show commercial advertisements or research material on sex determination tests online, reports the Barandbench. Interestingly, the SC has also asked the search engines, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, to block research material as well as advertisements related to sex determination.

The counsels for the search engines argued that the term advertisement should only be considered in the commercial sense, and that search engine results do not count as ads, and a blanket ban would lead to blocking other information as well. However, the court said that the companies cannot act as a ‘catalyst’ for declining sex ratio in the country.

The nodal agency will essentially act as a reporting center, where users will be able to report websites or links that display information about sex determination. The agency will then alert search engines and give them 36 hours for blocking the content. It’s not clear if users will be able to report via a hotline or an online mechanism or both. The current order is an interim order till the 17th of February, when the matter will be next considered.

Note that this isn’t the first time that the judiciary has asked search engines to delist sex determination ads or content. In September this year, the Supreme court asked Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to develop a method to auto-block both existing ads and ads that might appear in the future.The court had previously 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, and were called out for not complying with the order in July this year.

The law: According to the prohibition of sex selection Act, any person who puts an advertisement for prenatal and preconception 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)

MediaNama’s take (Nikhil adds)

This isn’t going to be easy. There are billions of pages online, and search engines can be fooled into surfacing ads that are for sex determination. Often, because of the scale of digital advertising, and the fact that it is a plug-and-play kind of a model for online advertising, it will be difficult for platforms to filter out specific advertisements. One plausible solution for the court would have been, because the platforms would have details of a payment mechanism, is for the nodal agency to collect information about the advertiser from the platform, and take action against them. Follow the money.