India’s largest ecommerce player, Flipkart, seems to have pulled the plug on its sexual wellness section and has discontinued the sale of products in that category. Condoms, however, are still available on the market place. Flipkart had started its sexual wellness section earlier in July 2014, and had said that it was Rs 1,000 crore category and is growing in double digits. A look at the company’s desktop website confirms the same.
The Economic Times reports that the move came after the police received an e-mail complaint about four sites, including Flipkart. The complaint said these sites were “openly promoting and selling objectionable products illegally and showing objectionable content on their websites”.
Flipkart’s decision comes following increased scrutiny by local government and health authorities an ecommerce marketplaces selling sexual wellness products. Earlier this month, Snapdeal CEO Kunal Bahl was slapped with a FIR Maharashtra’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for selling prescription drugs on the site. Maharashtra FDA commissioner Harshdeep Kamble told the Business Standard that the prescription drugs available on Snapdeal included sildenafil citrate tablets (Viagra), that only urologists, psychiatrists, endocrinologists and dermatologists can prescribe. He also mentioned that only licensed chemists can sell Schedule H drugs like emergency contraceptives that are available on Snapdeal, and that a doctor’s prescription is required to buy the same.
Last month, Maharashtra FDA had raided Snapdeal’s Mumbai office after being alerted that the online marketplace was selling Viagra and Ascoril, a cough syrup, without prescriptions. The company had been asked to stop selling prescription drugs and had subsequently de-listed sellers the drugs.
This is not the first time online marketplaces have run into trouble and earlier in January, the Telangana government sought to block Flipkart and three other sites including Imbesharam.com,Thatspersonal.com and Ohmysecrets.com for “objectionable content”. However it’s worth noting that Ohmysecrets.com, which sells sexual wellness products, has shut down and visitors to the site are shown the following message.
In the same month, to test the country’s homosexuality laws, a Delhi-based lawyer had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) against Snapdeal and Chennai-based Ohmysecrets.com for selling vibrators and some other products that were apparently in violation of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, along with other acts such as section 292, 292 A, 293 and 294 which prohibit obscenity in public.
Online marketplaces are somewhat protected by Section 79 of the IT Act, 2008. It proffers safe harbor to Intermediaries, as long as they act on complaints and do not knowingly allow the usage of their platform to break the law. But this again points to a larger debate on the responsibility, accountability and liability of platforms, marketplaces and aggregators. There’s no doubt that online aggregators and marketplaces are good for consumers and competition. But then who is accountable, when things get screwed up? And what about the liability of these platforms?