January 12, 2016 - Comments Off on YouTube Returns to Pakistan, But on Whose Terms?
Internet users in Pakistan may have noticed that YouTube no longer appears to be persona non grata. The extremely popular video-sharing website, banned in 2012 by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) for refusing to remove the controversial “Innocence of Muslims” video, appears to not only be unblocked, but is also a localised Pakistan-specific version. Google announced the unveiling of official region-specific versions of YouTube this month, not just for Pakistan, but for Nepal and Sri Lanka as well. According to Google's official blog for the Asia-Pacific region, “Pakistanis love YouTube's diverse music offerings.”
Before we celebrate and rush to watch adorable cat videos without having to jump through digital hoops, it is important that Google – which purchased YouTube in 2005 – and the PTA come clean as to the terms of the agreement that have led to YouTube's apparent unblocking.
Google has in recent years declared that it is pushing to become more transparent. Indeed, it has reported on the number of take-down requests, and user information requests, that it has received from Pakistan, and other governments. YouTube, furthermore, had been blocked – and remained blocked - by the PTA because of a refusal by Google to block material which the latter had construed to be blasphemous. Have the Californian technology giant and the regulatory body come to a tacit agreement? As with the PTA's showdown with Blackberry that saw the latter stay in Pakistan, have compromises been made, and by whom?
YouTube – and by extension Google – has laid out terms and policies on its website, and released “Community Guidelines” that it asks its users to follow, and they should not “try to look for loopholes or attempt to weasel your way out of the guidelines – just understand them and try to respect the spirit in which they were created.” The Community Guidelines state what they do not approve of, and what is permissible. However, these are general, and are being applied across the board, across the various localised versions of YouTube. The terms and policies that YouTube PK shares with its users link back to the standard international and US texts, and make no clear mention of the Pakistani context.
With the return of YouTube to Pakistani cyberspace, we urge Google to come forward with the terms and conditions under which YouTube has been “unblocked” in Pakistan, and what it means for the freedom of expression of Pakistani users.
Google is a member of the Global Network Initiative, "a multi-stakeholder group" that seeks to create "a collaborative approach to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector". Ranking Digital Rights gave Google an overall score of 65%, its highest (with caveats) for tech companies in 2015, reflecting its public commitment, to transparency, freedom of expression, privacy and human rights.
YouTube has come back to Pakistan, but Google's public commitment to transparency means that it must be clear as to its terms and policies, and how they impact the freedom of expression of Pakistani internet users.
Written by Adnan Chaudhri