September 22, 2021

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India court investigates Alibaba censorship and fake news

2 min read

An Indian court has asked Chinese tech giant Alibaba and its co-founder Jack Ma to present evidence about its news activities. The request stemmed from an employee lawsuit where a former employee claimed he was unjustly fired for refusing to censor content operated by Alibaba’s apps.

The case, first reported by Reuters, was brought up by Pushpendra Singh Parmar and is being heard by Judge Sonia Shiokand at the Gurugram District Court near Delhi. Although not directly linked to recent government action, the case could shed light on the activities of Chinese technology companies in India.

Last month, India banned 58 Chinese-owned apps, including the highly popular TickTock, in response to deadly border clashes between the two neighbors. Indian authorities say there is “credible input” which suggests that applications reduce national security.

Alibaba and Mom have been given 30 days to respond in person or through their lawyers. Ma, who retired as executive chairman in 2018, is not a Alibaba frontline executive. However, she is a director of the company, one of the 36 members controlling the company’s partnership structure and one of its largest single shareholders.

Through the Alibaba Picture Unit, Alibaba operates UC Web, a browser designed specifically for mobile devices, and UC News, which provides news for those mobile users. The UC browser has been downloaded more than 689 million times in India, more than 799 million times, according to the sensor tower and UC News, according to Reuters.

The South China Morning Post, owned by Alibaba, quoted StatCounter, a separate analysis firm. It said UC Browser has more than 430 million active users worldwide, of which 130 million are in India. It says it has become the second most used mobile browser in India with 10% market share after Google Chrome.

In a nearly 200-page document submitted as evidence, Parmar said UC News had two censored news items that could be harmful to China and could also create fake news.

“Any news item published against China was automatically / manually rejected by an evolutionary audit system intended to control this,” the filing said. It used keyword searches such as “Sino-Indian war” and “Sino-Indian border” to remove inconvenient stories.

According to Parmar, counterfeit Hindi-language news stories included banning 2,000-rupee notes in 2017, and another about starting a war between India and Pakistan in 2018.

In a statement quoted by Reuters, UC India said it was “steadfast in its commitment to the welfare of the Indian market and its local employees and that its policies comply with local law.” To be contacted by Diversity, Alibaba did not respond.

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