Deadline Passes for Tech Companies to Register With Indonesian Ministry of Communication and Information

Oliver Telling and Cristina Criddle, Financial Times:

The world’s biggest tech groups have signed up to a law in Indonesia that campaigners warn threatens freedom of expression in south-east Asia’s largest economy, in the latest compromise by the sector to retain access to an important market.

Social media companies including Meta, TikTok and Twitter have registered for a licence at the Indonesian communications ministry under which they might have to censor content and hand over users’ data. Some registered only hours before a deadline at midnight on Wednesday.

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

In a press release, Indonesian authorities say tech companies which fail to register by July 27 will be blocked in the country. The statement was issued before Amazon and Microsoft signed up; it lists them alongside several other major entities like Alibaba and Opera, game developers like Epic Games and Steam, and also Yahoo.

This is certainly a law to keep an eye on. Requiring internet companies to comply with police requests is a thorny issue, but not unexpected. The more concerning demand is that authorities will be able to request the removal — in Indonesia, at least — of materials deemed illegal in the country or unfit for public consumption. Authorities in the country are particularly worried about extremism.

In a statement, the Aliansi Jurnalis Independen criticized the vague descriptions in the law as being too open to interpretation, leading to decisions that are arbitrary at best and censorship at worst. Its concern is understandable: this policy supersedes two 2014 laws intended to filter pornography and illegal acts, but which sometimes overstepped their intentions. For example, Reddit and Tumblr have been unavailable at times in their entirety because of their permissive — or, in the case of Tumblr, formerly permissive — attitude toward porn.

This new law is similarly broad, which you can probably imagine given how online game providers are encouraged to register or be blocked. While these steps have been taken by about two hundred international tech companies, over eight thousand local Indonesian websites of all types and kinds are listed in its database. These are not just “tech companies” in the typical sense. Like I said: it is broad.

The Digital Services Act, recently passed by European Parliament, similarly requires removal of materials deemed illegal. These laws reflect a growing trend, but though I do not think it is universally negative, I have concerns. The world should be watching.