What does Google’s language restrictions on ad formats mean for startups, companies driving regional Indian language push?

Google's language restrictions, if strictly implemented, could hinder the growth of regional Indian language internet users and impact many Indian startups and enterprises, who are innovating to popularise Indian languages and build solutions that cater to regional Indian language consumers.

If you are a publisher using Google’s various platforms and networks, you may have received the Google Ad Manager Policy Update which states that starting from Oct 30, 2020, it will not allow web pages, sites, or apps that are not in its ‘supported’ or approved languages to monetise using AdSense, AdMob, or Ad Manager.

As per Google’s latest publisher policy update, Google will “prohibit monetisation of web pages, sites or apps that are not primarily in one of our supported languages, or that do not contain content.” Google’s list of 49 supported languages includes only nine Indian languages; these are Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, Telugu, Malayalam, and Urdu. 

This means that for publishers producing content in local Indian languages such as Assamese, Punjabi, Odia, Konkani, and Kashmir -- which are not part of the list of supported languages -- Google will stop serving ads for these sites, apps, or web pages.

Google’s announcement reads:

“On 9/30/2020, the Google Publisher Policies will be updated to prohibit monetization of web pages, sites or apps that are not primarily in one of our supported languages, or that do not contain content. From 10/30/2020, we will not allow new sites to be monetized using AdSense, Ad Manager or AdMob in unsupported languages or where they do not contain content. After 3/30/2021 we will not allow any sites in unsupported languages to be monetized using AdSense, Ad Manager or AdMob.”

Impact on local Indian language media companies, startups

With Google set to block ads on websites, webpages, and apps that produce content in the regional Indian languages that the tech major does not support, the move, when implemented, will no doubt hurt many of India’s Indic language media companies. 

Indeed, for a demographic as diverse as India’s -- with over 22 regional languages recognised by the Constitution and over 1,600 dialects -- the latest rules could have wider implications for the country’s Digital India dreams, particularly related to creating an inclusive, empowered digital society.

With millions of first-time internet users expected from beyond the metros, startups and large Indian enterprises are building digital solutions for Bharat users — the large majority of whom are non-English speaker. This latest announcement from Google, if implemented, could hinder the growth of regional languages on the internet and impact many Indian startups and enterprises, who are innovating to popularise Indian languages and cater to regional language consumers.

Impact on regional language online users growth

It’s true that Hindi, Tamil, Bengali, Telugu, and Marathi — which have the highest number of internet users among regional Indian languages — are all in the list of Google’s ‘supported languages.’ 

However, the exclusion of many regional Indian languages — such as Odia, Punjabi, Assamese, and Nepali — could dampen the widespread euphoria around an expected increase in Indian regional language internet users to over 600 million Indians by 2021 from more than 200 million currently. 

Consequently, Google’s latest update is expected to hurt the efforts of many startups that are building to bring Bharat users online and grow the number of India’s regional language online users. 

Among Google’s list of unsupported languages are several Indic languages that have a large population, mostly in millions, who rely on or are expected to rely on websites, apps, or sites that have content in these excluded languages.

For example, there are around at least 38 million Odia speakers, 33 million Punjabi speakers, 15 million Assamese speakers, and 7 million Kashmiri speakers, according to the Ministery of Home Affairs. 

While these numbers pale in comparison to the number of Hindi (more than 500 million) or Bengali-speaking population (97 million), it is worth noting that several European languages such as Bulgarian, Catalan, Czech, Latvia, and Estonian — which are in Google’s list of supported languages — have a mere 1 million to 15 million speakers worldwide.

What's needed to power India's digital economy

One may argue that many of these European regions have more advanced digital economies than India currently does, but it’s important to note that India has made great strides in its Digital India journey in the past decade alone. 

Much of this has been fueled by the government’s commitment to creating an inclusive, digitally empowered society and the Indian startup and tech ecosystem’s concerted efforts to build solutions that solve for Bharat and India. 

To keep this momentum alive and to build a truly self-reliant India, there is a need for more supportive policies that enable startups, enterprises, and innovators working to bring millions of underserved Indians into the folds of the mainstream digital economy.

As such, we at YourStory would like to urge Google to include all major regional Indian languages in its ‘supported languages’ list, and also request the government of India to make a similar request, so that startups, media companies, and other enterprises in India’s regional language space can continue to work towards growing India’s digital economy.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta


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