The government has notified amendments to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, related to online gaming and the spread of false and misleading information regarding government business. The aim of these amendments is to enforce greater due diligence by online gaming and social media intermediaries in respect of online games and fake or false misleading information related to the government.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) was allocated the matter related to online gaming rules on December 23, 2022, under the Government of India (Allocation of Business Rules), 1961. The ministry prepared the draft amendments to the IT rules and uploaded them for consultations on January 2, 2023. As per the government, these amendments have been drafted after holding widespread consultations with multiple stakeholders.
As per the amended rules, it has been made obligatory on the part of intermediaries to make reasonable effort to not host, publish or share any online game that can cause the user harm, or that has not been verified as a permissible online game by an online gaming self-regulatory body/bodies designated by the government. The intermediary will also have to ensure that no advertisement or surrogate advertisement or promotion of an online game that is not a permissible online game, is hosted on its platform. The self-regulatory body will have the authority to inquire and satisfy itself that the online game does not involve wagering on any outcome, that the online gaming intermediary and the game comply with the rules, the requirements under law for being competent to enter into a contract (currently at 18 years), and a framework made by the self-regulatory body regarding safeguards against user harm, including psychological harm, measures to safeguard through parental controls, age-rating mechanism, and measures to safeguard users against the risk of gaming addiction.
The amended rules also cast additional obligations on online gaming intermediaries in relation to online games involving real money. These include the displaying of a mark of verification by the self-regulatory body on such games; informing their users of the policy for withdrawal or refund of deposit, manner of determination and distribution of winnings, fees and other charges payable; obtaining the KYC details of the users; and not giving credit or enabling financing by third parties to the users. If in case the government issues a notification in the interest of users or other specified grounds, the same rules and obligations will be made applicable to even those games where the user is not required to make any deposit for winnings.
Further, as per the rules, the government may notify multiple self-regulatory bodies, which shall be representative of the online gaming industry but will function at arm’s length from their members, and a board consisting of directors who are free from conflict of interest and represent all relevant stakeholders and experts, including online games users, educationists, psychology or mental health experts, ICT experts, persons with child rights protection experience and individuals having experience in relevant fields of public policy and administration. The rules provide for the obligations to become applicable once sufficient number of self-regulatory bodies have been designated so that the online gaming industry has adequate time to comply with its obligations.
Besides, the amended rules now also make it obligatory for the intermediaries not to publish, share or host fake, false or misleading information in respect of any business of the government. Fake, false or misleading information will be identified by the notified Fact Check Unit of the government. It is to be noted that the existing IT rules already required the intermediaries to make reasonable efforts to not host, publish or share any information which is patently false and untrue or misleading in nature.