Get our IT Act together
24 December 2004
Well intentioned cyber laws are only as good as their subsequent intrepretation and implementation.
The noise and colour of an Indian shaadi (wedding) brass band, more or less, describes the events of the last few days. That the law is an ass, in the case of Baazee.com, a 100 per cent Indian subsidiary of eBay — the world's largest online marketplace — is in some danger of being proven so. Except, in this case, the law is fairly robust; it is its interpretation and style of enforcement that is asinine!
Baazee was in the news recently on account of a rather profitable valuation and subsequent acquisition by eBay making its shareholders both happy and rich! Reportedly at $50 million for a subscriber base of just about 1 million registered users… the largest dotcom deal after the sale of IndiaWorld (Sify) to Satyam at the height of the internet boom No doubt an isolated case of an Indian dotcom success in today's post internet bubble world, but much needed success nonetheless. So what are the issues which have bought a fairly open and shut case to such prominence?
First, as everyone knows, an auction or marketplace site is much like a mandi, bazaar, stock exchange or flea market except that it has no physical boundaries. It is virtual and almost anybody in the world with an email id and internet access can participate by just registering and listing the product description of what they want to sell — not the product per se!
So in this case. It was not the 'objectionable' "DPS (Delhi Public School) clip" that was found on the site, contrary to what is reported in most media, but just an innocuous text description of the item.
Second, trading sites are fairly self-regulating. While anyone can register and transact, all buyers and sellers rate each other based on feedback on the reliability and trustworthiness of their transaction experience. The site, unlike the local kirana wallah (grocery shop-owner) neither 'owns', 'creates' or 'publishes' the product nor is necessarily aware of what passes through their site since there are literally millions of transactions taking place at any point of time. If one types the keyword "DPS Dhamaka" on the world's most famous search engine — Google, the results throw up links to sites actually containing the infamous clip! Baazee or Google, Inc as 'intermediaries' are in no practical position to pre-emptively control what is available on their sites nor act as moral gatekeepers. In short they have limited responsibility.