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NCPCR calls for MeitY to take action against ULLU for explicit content

The Commission received complaints against ULLU by the group ‘Gems of Bollywood’,  for sharing “extremely obscene and objectionable content secretively to its subscribers, including children”.

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), in a letter to the IT Ministry, has urged for an inquiry into OTT platform ULLU, for making obscene content easily available to minors and allegedly depicting sexual content of school children. Alongside urging action against the Ullu app for sharing said content, the letter, written by the NCPCR Chairperson Priyank Kanoongo and in possession of Medianama, also calls for action to be taken against Google Play and iOS for hosting the app.

 What is the NCPCR?

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights is a statutory body constituted under Section 3 of the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005. According to the letter, the commission is required to monitor the proper and effective implementation of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.

 What are the complaints made against ULLU?

The Commission received complaints against ULLU by the group ‘Gems of Bollywood’,  for sharing “extremely obscene and objectionable content secretively to its subscribers, including children”, according to the letter. Further, the chairperson writes that the complainant shared examples of shows that allegedly “target school kids with explicit sexual scenes and plotlines.” Thus, the Chairperson calls for the IT ministry to take appropriate action against ULLU for hosting such content.

 The Chairperson also added that the ULLU app is easily available on Google Play Store and Apple App Store, and noted the lack of know-your-customer (KYC) requirement or age-verification system for downloading the app. They note that this poses no restriction to children accessing the app, and thus makes explicit content accessible to minors. “Such accessibility is deemed to be a direct violation of section 11 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012.” Thus, the Commission calls for an inquiry against ULLU App, Google Play Store and iOS. They request that, “stringent measures be implemented to mandate Know Your Customer procedures for all such applications streaming these types of videos available on Google Play and iOS as per the law to protect the children from accessing such apps.”

 Risks for IPO-bound ULLU

 In its draft red herring prospectus (DRHP),  ULLU noted the potential risks for aspiring shareholders to consider. One of these mentioned that “Some viewers or civil society organisations may find our film content objectionable” in reference to graphic content, including violence or intimate scenes. However, no mention was made of previous take downs of content deemed objectionable. This is significant, as in the past ULLU has been asked to take down content deemed objectionable. Notably, the Digital Publishers Content Grievances Council (DPCGC) issued an order against ULLU in 2023 for not complying with the Code of Ethics provided under the IT Rules 2021 by providing obscene content.

 However, in its DRHP, ULLU stated the risk Government policies posed to their business. “Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill 2023” was mentioned for posing a “significant risk” to the company, “potentially stifling creativity, curtailing growth, content censorship and increasing compliance costs.”

 Know Your Customer for children

Notably, the NCPCR also proposed implementing KYC for platforms that stream content deemed obscene. However, no mention was made of the method employed for KYC. The Digital Personal Data Protection (DPDP) Act, 2023, directs websites to provide ‘verifiable consent’ from a parent or guardian to protect children from harmful content online. However, there might be limitations to the system. As noted at Medianama event ‘Exploring User Verification’, Ekta Jafri, a Design Mentor at The TechBridge, pointed out that children might learn to bypass these norms adding that nowadays children can get rid of “80 percent of the mechanisms” created to protect children online. Further, often parents may lack awareness of the content available on these websites, noted Sonali Patankar of Responsible Netism. She believes that only 20% of the parents in India are literate and digitally aware. “But the remaining 80, I feel they’re under the category of giving assent because they don’t know what they’re giving consent about or for,” she said.

However, DPDP Act does not specify how the ages of users will be verified. It was reported that Aadhar based consent framework may be used as an age verification system. Nidhi Sudhan from Citizen Digital Foundation said this may prove to be counterintuitive to protecting children. “Linking an ID that carries biometric data, purely for date of birth (DOB) proof would create unnecessary and graver vulnerability points for children, especially if there’s a breach.”, she said.

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