Airtel CEO Says Child Porn Filtering 'Isn't Possible'

06/08/2015 8:23 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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INDIA - JANUARY 09: Gopal Vittal, Director, Marketing and Communications of Airtel in New Delhi, India (Photo by Sumeet Inder Singh/The India Today Group/Getty Images)

GURGAON — A top executive of India's largest telecom company has said that being able to filter out child pornography was beyond its current capabilities.

On the sidelines of the launch event of the country's first pan-India 4G network here, Gopal Vittal, MD & CEO, Bharti Airtel (India & South Asia) told HuffPost India, "While we are fully compliant with whatever government directives exist, but being able to screen out child pornography from adult sites isn't possible. We are a platform for content and being able to screen out individual bits is not within our remit."

Vittal's comments come days after the government did an overnight volte-face about a poorly made decision to ban some pornographic websites. It withdrew the ban after an outcry online, saying it will now require ISPs to filter child porn sites.

To be sure, Airtel isn't the only ISP that has expressed its inability to comply with the government's relaxation of the ban.

The Internet Service Providers Association, which consists of 47 ISPs said in a statement that "...The ISPs do not have a mechanism to check content, as the same is dynamic in nature. Hence, we request your good self ( the government) to advise us immediately on the future course of action in this regard. Till your further directive, the ISPs are keeping the said 857 URLs disabled."

READ: Porn Ban: Government To Reverse Order, Will Ask ISPs To Filter Child Porn

The 857 urls refer to websites that the government had banned last weekend, based on a petition filed by an Indore-based lawyer in the Supreme Court. The petition has asked for a ban on online pornography and though the Court didn't pass orders to ban pornography, it did observe that the government appeared tardy in "addressing the issue". The government latched onto that single remark and ordered, via the telecom ministry, internet service providers to bar the entire list provided by the petitioner.

Following an uproar on social media and accusations of being a nanny state, the government appeared to back down. Union Minister for Information Technology and Communications, Ravi Shankar Prasad, on Tuesday said that internet companies were free to lift the ban on the 857 sites provided they ensured that they didn't host child pornography.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear the petition again on August 10.

The popularity of online porn in India sits alongside a dramatic rise in data consumption. Quartz India cites a survey by Pornhub , one of the largest pornsites in the world (and in the banned 857-club) that says India is the fifth-largest consumer of porn on their website in the world.

Airtel announced earlier this week that it posted a quarterly profit jump of 40% from selling some of its telecom assets in Africa as well as a rise in mobile-data consumption. Mobile data or Internet revenue of the company grew by 67.3 percent, year-on-year (y-o-y) basis, to Rs2,609 crores. The mobile data customer base of the company increased by 25.8% to 4.95 crores at the end of the quarter, from 3.93 crores in the year-ago period.

The launch of the company's 4G network across 296 cities, at an investment of nearly $2.2 billion (Rs 1400 crore) is only the beginning of what is certain to be an intense battle for mobile data consumption, once Reliance Jio launches its 4G services later this year.

READ: Reliance Jio 4G Services To Start In December, To Cost Rs 300-500 Per Month

READ: Bharti Airtel Files FIR Against Ex-Employee, Alleges Confidential Information Stolen To Benefit Reliance Jio

According to Nokia Networks Mbit study this February, 3G data consumption in India accounted for 52 per cent of total data consumption in December 2014, against 42 per cent in January last. On an average, 3G data use increased to 688 MB per month in 2014, indicating a 29 per cent jump compared with 2013. On an average, 2G data use also rose to 216 MB per month, indicating a 48 per cent jump, and improvements in 2G network quality for mobile broadband access.

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