Microsoft, Google and Yahoo were issued notices by India's Supreme Court on Wednesday, following a complaint that they were promoting techniques and products for the selection of an unborn child's sex through advertising and links on their search engines.
There is a deliberate attempt by these companies to target Indian users with advertisements that claim to help in the selection of a child's sex, said Sabu Mathew George, the petitioner in the case, in a telephone interview on Thursday.
Google said various factors go into managing ad program policy, including local legal requirements and user experience. "We review our policies regularly and make changes to keep them current and effective. We have not yet received the petition from the Supreme Court, but we take local laws extremely seriously and will review the petition carefully."
Yahoo and Microsoft were unavailable for comment.
The advertisement of products and techniques to aid in the selection of an unborn child's sex is an offense under India's "The Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act". In India, at least 900,000 unborn girls die each year through feticide, said George who is a social activist associated with organizations fighting for the rights of young girls in India.
As activists were able to effectively stop sex selection advertising in the print medium, Indian and foreign advertisers have moved to the Internet, George said. Unlike the print medium, Internet search engines allow for very targeted advertising, he added.
"These companies are making money by breaking Indian laws," George said.
The country's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Ministry of Communications and IT have also been made respondents in this case, as they did not take any action against the three companies, although the offenses were brought to their notice, George said.
In India, search engines, video sharing sites and social networking sites, including Google's Orkut and YouTube have been sued for objectionable content or copyright violations.
Google has in the past objected to provisions in India's Information Technology Act 2000 which make intermediaries like ISPs (Internet service providers), website hosting companies, search engines, email services, and social networks, liable for their users' content.
Section 79 of the Act holds network service providers liable unless they can prove that the offense or contravention was committed without their knowledge or that they had exercised all due diligence to prevent the commission of such offense or contravention.
"We don't hold the telephone company liable when two callers use the phone lines to plan a crime," Rishi Jaitly, a policy analyst at Google India said in a Google blog post in October.
"For the same reasons, it's a fundamental principle of the Internet that you don't blame the neutral intermediaries for the actions of their customers," Jaitly added.