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Tech giant Google moved the Delhi High Court on Wednesday to seek interim protection against the move to declare its search engine a “social media intermediary" (SMI) under the new information technology rules, legal website Live Law reported. The company urged the court to set aside a 20 April order passed by a single-judge bench, which involved the company in relation to certain offending content on a pornographic website.

Google said although it was an intermediary, the high court judge had “mischaracterized" its search engine as a ‘SMI’ or ‘significant social media intermediary’. Under the new rules, a social media intermediary is defined as an entity that primarily or solely enables online interaction between two or more users and allows them to create, upload, share, modify or access information using its services.

“Search engines are a reflection of the content and information that is available on the internet. And while we maintain a consistent policy over removal of objectionable content from search results, the Delhi High Court order has cast certain obligations that would wrongly classify Google search as a social media intermediary," a Google spokesperson told Mint.

“The direction requires proactively identifying and globally disabling access to any content which may be similar to the offending content, that may appear on any other websites/online platforms, or in any other context. We have filed an appeal against this part of the order and look forward to explaining the steps we take to remove objectionable content from Google search results," he added.

Google said its appeal is against the classification of Google Search as a social media intermediary and not against the IT rules. The case hints at a greater need of clarity from the government on key definitions under the new rules and its implementation, said tech and legal experts.

Gurshabad Grover, senior policy officer at the Centre for Internet and Society, said while the IT Act treats intermediaries based on their function, the new rules are entity based. According to him, the definition of social media intermediary under the new rules is also extremely broad and practically encapsulates everything.

“Slack messaging app, for instance, which is often used by an organization and its employees, might have 500 million users but it might not fit the conventional definition of a social media platform."

Going forward, Grover said, more firms could contest the new rules. “Most obligations are on significant SMIs. A lot of these rules hinge on how one defines ‘social media’ and ‘registered users’ which is still not clear," he added.

Atul Pandey, partner, Khaitan and Co., a law firm, said the new rules do not clarify whether a pure-play intermediary like Google can come within the ambit of “social media intermediary" or “significant social media intermediary".

“Considering the broad working of the exceptional circumstances under which intermediaries may be treated as significant SMI, there is certainly a greater chance of entities taking a legal route for seeking protection from such interpretation by the government," he added.

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