Wed, Nov 08, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Indonesia steps up obscenity purge after GIF complaint

Reuters, JAKARTA

Indonesia yesterday said it would summon executives of messaging services and search engines, including Google, to demand they remove obscene content, but dropped a threat to block WhatsApp Messenger after graphics interchange format (GIF) images were taken off the service.

The Internet is already partly censored in Indonesia, but the latest steps mark an escalation against a background of growing conservatism in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.

“We will call all providers, including Google, to clean up their network,” Indonesian Ministry of Communication and Informatics Director-General Semuel Pangerapan said.

Google, which is owned by Alphabet Inc, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The ministry on Monday vowed to block Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp Messenger within 48 hours if it did not ensure that obscene GIF images were removed.

WhatsApp said that message encryption prevented it from monitoring the animated graphics files that are available on the app through third-party services.

It said it had asked the government instead to work with those providers, which integrate their technology into WhatsApp to allow users to enter keywords to search for GIFs.

Tenor Inc, one of the third parties, yesterday said it had “already implemented a fix for the content issues.”

Users of Whatsapp on iPhones were unable to access Tenor GIFs yesterday.

“We see now that they have done what we asked,” Pangerapan said. “Therefore, we won’t block them because they have responded to us.”

WhatsApp is widely used in Indonesia. Civil servants and ministers, including Indonesian Minister of Communication and Information Rudiantara, are among the heaviest users.

The warning did not appear to target Gboard, a keyboard app developed by Google that provides comparable GIF search results.

Rudiantara has vowed in the past to clamp down on pornography sites and, after meetings with representatives of Google, Twitter Inc and Facebook in August, he said his ministry’s priority was to protect Indonesians from content that promoted radicalism, terrorism and drugs.

Indonesia blocks access to Web sites offering criticism of Islam, dating services and sex education, research published in May by Tor Project, a non-profit maker of Web browsing tools, showed.

Indonesia had 69 million monthly active Facebook users by the first quarter of 2014, ranking it fourth globally after the US, India and Brazil, company data showed.

Some reaction on Indonesian social media to the threatened block of WhatsApp was skeptical.

“While you’re at it, why don’t you block Twitter too, [and] if necessary all browsers in the Playstore, because it’s way easier to search for porn there than on WhatsApp,” wrote one Twitter user with the handle @jnessy.

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