Content media

Big Tech adheres to Indonesia’s strict content law

The world’s biggest tech groups have signed a law in Indonesia that activists say threatens free speech in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, in the industry’s latest compromise to retain access to an important market.

Social media companies such as Meta, TikTok and Twitter have registered a license with the Indonesian Ministry of Communications under which they may have to censor content and hand over user data. Some signed up just hours before a midnight Wednesday deadline.

Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Netflix and Spotify have also signed up.

Indonesia, home to the world’s fourth largest population, has become an increasingly attractive investment destination for international technology groups. But journalists and activists continue to face harsh punishment under sweeping online media laws.

Under rules announced in November 2020, Indonesia required tech companies to register with the government by Wednesday’s deadline. Authorities can order the removal of content that disturbs “society” or “public order” and require that access to company data be granted to law enforcement.

Those who continue to operate without a license risk receiving warnings, followed by fines and even losing their right to operate in the country.

Indonesian rules underscore the tightrope multinational tech companies have to walk in certain markets. Social media companies, which often promote their commitment to free speech, have compromised these principles in their pursuit of profit, critics said.

“These technology platforms are increasingly being used to interfere with or even obstruct human rights,” said Stephanie Hare, activist and author of Technology is not neutral: a short guide to technological ethics. But “at the end of the day, their priority is to maximize shareholder value and comply with the law.”

She added: “They could have all banded together and refused to do it. . . But they didn’t. [Meta] claims to be all about free speech. So how does this fit in with following these rules? »

The regulations have created a new dilemma for the tech industry, which in recent years has faced pressure from controversial rules in other countries, including content censorship demands in Russia and China. Last year, Twitter was embroiled in a spat with India over orders to block accounts tweeting about the protests.

Jakarta said its regulations protect personal data and ensure a “positive” digital space in the country. But the vague terminology has raised concerns among journalists given the use of social media platforms for activism and the widespread use of existing laws to target journalists.

The criteria for disturbing the public are “soft” and “rubbery”, the Indonesian Alliance of Independent Journalists said in a statement. He warned that the authorities could consider information revealing human rights violations or crimes disturbing public order.

Several tech companies have delayed their commitment to the new regulations.

Twitter only appeared on the government register on Wednesday, a day after the Meta-owned platforms Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. Apple’s iCloud and Microsoft’s cloud service were among 207 overseas companies to sign up.

Indonesia’s young population makes it a key market for TikTok, which registered in May. TikTok said it will “always comply with applicable regulations in all markets where we operate.” The company added that it believes “the Indonesian government will respect freedom of expression.”

Twitter said it remained committed to the Indonesian market and encouraged an “open internet”. The company said it looked forward to working with the government to make the internet “safe” and “free”.

Meta declined to comment. Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Indonesia’s communications ministry did not respond to a request for comment.