Even as Facebook continues to struggle to free itself from the ongoing objectionable content lawsuit tangle in the country, a fresh one has raised its ugly head. Based on a public interest litigation filed by K.N.Govindacharya, the Delhi High Court issued notice to the central government, social networking site Facebook India and Google India. Govindacharya, a right-wing Hindu activist in his PIL sought the recovery of taxes, which he alleges haven't come through as a result of the Indian operations of both Facebook and Google. By way of his PIL, Govindacharya now wants the HC to direct the government to “recover all “past and present” direct and indirect tax demands arising from business income from Indian operations of different social networking websites.” Now, a division bench comprising Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Rajiv Shakdher have asked the government, and the aforementioned Internet-based companies to file their replies within four weeks and have set September 5 as the next date for the hearing in this case.
Quoting Govindacharya, reports state that, “Facebook gross revenue for previous year was approximately $37 billion but they are not paying due taxes on their Indian operations as per provisions of double taxation avoidance agreement and the government is not taking any action to safeguard the national interest and sovereignty of India.“
Among other issues highlighted in his petition, it was also mentioned that, “As per reports, Facebook has further allowed account opening by children below 13 years of age who may be 1/3rd of their registered users just to exploit online gaming market and increase advertisement revenue.” Govindacharya's petition further added that owing to unlawful agreements, data of roughly 50 million users “is transferred to the US and used for commercial gains in violation of the right to privacy.”
Govindacharya, in his petition also drew attention to a report of Mumbai ATS. The PIL had him stating that the accused of the July 13 blasts in Mumbai, which happened last year, were reportedly in touch with each other and also with the Indian Mujahideen operatives through Facebook since 2008.
Facing the heat over taxes (Image credit: Getty Images)
In his petition, he further added that his plea is being filed to safeguard the interest of more than 1.5 crore Indian children who have joined Facebook against the terms of agreement and public policy. He added that children were being exposed to “easy, free, convenient and anonymous” pornographic and objectionable materials that may lead to their exploitation as shown in a TV show, anchored by Bollywood star Aamir Khan.
The petition also highlighted that, “As per telecommunication minister's statement in Parliament, the government lost 4 billion USD every year due to cyber-crimes and approximately 90 million government websites were hacked in last 3 years.” Further in his petition, Govindacharya has also sought banning of government officials from accessing social networking websites, either through computers or networks while at work, in order to safeguard sensitive data. In his petition, Govindacharya also highlighted, “Facebook is one of prominent social networking website with more than 50 million Indian users and as per their own records approximately 5 to 6 per cent of their accounts are fake or being operated by anonymous users due to non-authentication of details by the company before opening of accounts as required by their terms of agreement.”
Govindacharya, by way of his PIL has sought the implementation of national register of sexual offenders and other heinous crimes, so as to prevent them from joining the social network.
Facebook India is currently are also fighting an objectionable content lawsuit filed against them, and which included several others as well. It all began late last year, when reports about Mufti Aijaz Arshad Qasmi, the founder of Fatwaonline.org filing a lawsuit against 21 social networking websites in the country first surfaced. Reportedly, Qasmi was not pleased one bit with the way in which certain websites were hosting objectionable content, which included images, videos, posts, among others; some depicting images of gods and goddesses, too. The government then issued notices to some 21 social networking websites, including popular ones like Facebook, Google, YouTube, among others, asking them to sanitize their content or face a ban. Over the course of several hearings, the court dropped a host of names from the lawsuit, which included some big names, like Microsoft. The lawsuit, however at every stage has been grabbing headlines the world over and the websites have been working at getting their names off the list.