Reviews website MouthShut.com has, so far, received over 790 takedown notices, 240 legal notices, and has 11 court cases registered against it, its founder Faisal Farooqui revealed at a discussion on the ‘The Internet We Want‘ discussion organized by the Software Freedom Law Centre. The company gets notices from Cyber Crime Cells across the country, among which, as per Farooqui, the Gurgaon Cyber Crime cell is particularly active, and many Cyber Crime cell notices cite section 91 of the CRPC. Sometimes MouthShut would just get phone calls, and in other cases, it would get notices on official letterheads. There was a time when a sub inspector from the Bangalore Cybercrime, would call the company every day, Farooqui said. “Why am I going to the Supreme court? We said we need protection from people like Kumar Builders.
Kumar Builders, Farooqui said, sent MouthShut a legal notice of Rs 2000 crore. They had a project coming up, and five people who had booked property with them had issues. “There were 5 reviews, and they wanted Rs 400 crore per review.” “The lowest someone has claimed from us,” Farooqui said, “is Rs 1 crore. We receive two notices of Rs 1 crore every week. They don’t excite us.”
On being asked about the type of reviews that get notices, Farooqui said that there are essentially two types of cases: in some cases, people are upset about the words used in the review, and in others, there is a situation wherein the user has chosen the option of not recommending this product to others (as in, a negative recommendation). Sometimes, the complaints themselves are difficult to deal with, and it’s difficult for a small organization: “JLS Institute sent us a 900 pages of evidence about why a review was an issue,” he said.
MouthShut.com is challenging India’s Information Technology Rules in the Supreme Court Of India, specifically the rules pertaining to Section 79, which defines intermediary liability, and vaguely defines circumstances as per which intermediaries like ISPs and website owners need to remove content.
None of the cases that have been filed against MouthShut have reached a conclusion, though. He did say that the website has received fake court orders: in fact, on a show on NDTV, he had showcased a fake Supreme Court order that MouthShut had received. The website even got a fake court order from a person claiming to be the famous lawyer Ram Jethmalani (although the email address, according to Farooqui, was ramjethmalini at yahoo).
“Yelp started 4 years after us, and they’ve not faced these kind of issues,” Farooqui said during the course of the discussion.
On the question of fake reviews, Farooqui said that MouthShut has its own compliance team, which tries to spot fake reviews, and proprietary algorithms which help determine the authenticity. “We have a compliance team which has a series of automated ways of identifying junk reviews, and apart from this, people can rate reviews as well. There’s also a subjective element, but we try and not intervene, and have any editorial intervention. We’ve seen a trend, where a website that say give us $10,000 and we’ll post positive reviews for your brand on mouthshut.com, and that review will display on page 1. Majority of people who respond to those are Indians from India. It’s a unique problem for India. Last year, we deleted 4100 id’s which we suspected were indulging in fake reviews.”
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