ISLAMABAD: Despite having been launched globally, Internet users in the country still cannot access ‘YouTube PK’, the popular video-sharing website domain localised specifically for Pakistan. On Tuesday, Google announced that YouTube was now also available in Urdu.
A Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) official, speaking to Dawn on condition of anonymity, said that the Supreme Court would decide whether YouTube could be unblocked. “The court has given all stakeholders 15 days to respond,” he said, adding that as the regulator, PTA preferred not to officially comment on the matter as long as it was sub judice.
PTA Director General Nisar Ahmed told the apex court on Tuesday that it was now possible to limit access to objectionable content on the video-sharing site, which was the main reason why the website had not been unblocked thus far. But in the absence of a court order to this effect, the new site, youtube.com.pk, is live but inaccessible.
According to the statement released by a Google spokesperson: “users from Pakistan will now see the YouTube Pakistan site in Urdu when they visit the YouTube homepage, with playlists of trending and recommended videos popular in Pakistan. Viewers can now more easily find content that is beloved in their own countries, and discover more relevant local content.”
PTA insists only court can order unblocking; digital rights groups say govt-Google deal non-transparent
When asked what parameters Google uses to decide whether a video should be removed, the spokesperson said, “Where we have launched YouTube locally and we are notified that a video is illegal in that country, we may restrict access to it after a thorough review. Government requests to remove content will continue to be tracked, and included in our transparency report.”
According to the transparency report, while Google did not accede to any request from the government of Pakistan to take down content, it did share at least one user’s data with the state authorities in 2015.
Ever since YouTube was blocked in the country in 2012, digital rights activists have been campaigning for it to be unblocked. However, many groups are surprised by Google’s domain localisation and have expressed concerns regarding the lack of transparency in the deal that led to this move.
“It is important that Google and the PTA come clean as to the terms of the agreement that have led to YouTube’s apparent unblocking,” said a statement posted by the Digital Rights Foundation on their website on Wednesday.
Their surprise is not unfounded. In February 2015, the minister in-charge of the Cabinet Division revealed on the floor of the Senate that it was “in process of providing intermediary liability protection for internet content providers through the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2014, which will then be a consideration for localisation of YouTube in Pakistan subject to it being a business case for Google”.
At the time, the government did not appear very confident that this would be possible, adding, “This, in itself, will not guarantee access to YouTube in Pakistan”.
However, subsequently, PTA Chairperson Ismail Shah and other officials attended the Internet Governance Forum 2015 in João Pessoa, Brazil, where they held meetings with representatives of Google and Facebook, among others.
An official from Google’s Public Policy and Government Affairs office for South and Southeast Asia is also currently in Islamabad meeting various stakeholders.
However, there is no official word on whether he has met with the concerned government officials.
Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2016