Indonesian authorities stated on Tuesday that they would summon the representatives of messaging services as well as search engines, which include Alphabet Inc’s Google, planning to demand they remove contents with obscenity.
This announcement comes a day after the country's warning that it would shutdown WhatsApp Messenger.
Even though Indonesian internet has already been partly censored, the latest move highlights the censorship’s escalation against a background of growing conservatism in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.
Semuel Pangerapan, who is a director general at Indonesia’s communication and informatics ministry, said that they “will call all providers, including Google to clean up their network.”
On Monday, the ministry pledged to block Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp Messenger within 48 hours if the messaging service did not guarantee the removal of obscene Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) images.
Pertaining to WhatsApp Messenger, Pangerapan said that “they have to follow the rules of the host. The service is widely used in Indonesia, and among its prolific users are ministers and bureaucrats.
As a response, WhatsApp said that same day that the message encryption it uses to secure its users’ privacy disabled it from effectively monitoring the animated graphic files, also known as GIFs, which are available on the App via third party services.
WhatsApp added that the Indonesian government should instead work with those providers, which integrate their services into the WhatsApp system for users to enter keywords in searching of GIFs.
One of the third party service providers, Tenor Inc, said on Tuesday that it had “already implemented a fix for the content issues.”
Users of WhatsApp Messenger on iPhones were virtually unable to access Tenor GIFs that day.
Jennifer Kutz, a spokeswoman of the company, said in a statement that they have been “regularly” working with “local entities to make sure our content reflects the cultural mores and legal requirements.”
Meanwhile, Giphy Inc did not issue any comment regarding the matter. Giphy is a New York city-based GIF company that also works with WhatsApp. It reportedly offers its partners a feature that enables the filtering of inappropriate images.
Moreover, Indonesia’s warning did not appear to include Gboard among its targets. Gboard is a keyboard app developed by Google that provides GIF search results. However, unlike other service providers, it must be separately installed from WhatsApp on most devices.
Indonesia has been blocking access to different websites that offer criticisms of Islam, which is the religion of the majority of the country’s population, dating services, and sex education, according to a research published by Tor Project in May.
Tor Project is a non-profit maker of Web browsing tools.
By the first quarter of 2014, Indonesia already had 69 million monthly active Facebook users, making it fourth globally tailing the United States, India, and Brazil, based on company data.
Meanwhile, reactions on Indonesian social media were skeptical over the threatened block.
“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,” said one Twitter user.
Following different threats of shutdown, regulators in the country have reached agreements with numerous technological companies. In August, the country announced that it would block Giphy’s website for showing gambling-related ads.
However, access was quickly reestablished after the company agreed to cooperate with regulators.
Other websites, like Vimeo and Tumblr, have received bans in the country in recent years, with regulators saying that they were “full of radicals and terrorist propaganda.”
The Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI) had encouraged the ministry of communication to block pornographic GIF images that are accessible through the use of emoticons. They have complained that children could easily reach them.
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