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Intermediary Liability: Amul sends legal notice to Google and Godaddy over fake campaigns

The Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd. (GCMMF), which owns the Amul brand has issued a legal notice to Google India and Godaddy.com for fraudulent practices on their platform by individuals and organizations. This was reported by Business Line.

Dated January 10, the notice to Google stated that individuals and organizations were using Google’s platform to commit fraud and cheat people regarding Amul. GCMMF managing director RS Sodhi said that Google has benefitted from Google Search advertising campaigns, which are being used to scam innocent people in the name of Amul.

Fake campaigns for business opportunities with Amul, money transfers made

According to the report, fake B2B campaigns with promises of business opportunities with Amul for opening Amul Parlor’s have been circulating via fake websites since September. According to Business Standard, upon visiting these sites, individuals were required to fill forms, after which they received calls from unknown numbers to pay up registration fees ranging from Rs 25,000 to Rs 5 lakh via NEFT. After the money was transferred, the callers would stop communication.

In the case of Godaddy.com, Amul has issued the notice for misuse of their platform for domain registrations. A quick search on Google for ‘Amul Parlours’ for example, will turn up several Amul-like websites, such as “amulfranchiseonline.co.in”, “amul.online”, “franchiseamul.in”. All of these are Google served ads, while the bondafide Amul website “amul.com” shows up after four such ads.

Amul approached Google prior to filing notice

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For the last 4 months, the sales team of Amul have been meeting innocent individuals who have been duped of various hefty amounts and guiding them to file FIRs and take other legal steps. However, the most imperative step that Amul feels is to prevent the usage of platforms such as Google Search results for such nefarious activities,” Amul’s statement said.

Note that Amul had flagged this with Google India previously and had asked for their help to stop this fraud. It had also submitted legal documents pertaining to their copyright over the Amul brand and product brand names. Amul had also taken this up the Cyber Cell of the Gujarat Police in Ahmedabad, and also raised it with domain portals from where the fake website domains were being bought. It is unclear if Amul had approached Godaddy.com.

Should Google and Godaddy be held liable?

(Nikhil adds)

Millions of campaigns are operational on Google each day and hundreds of domains are registered by Godaddy. It is not possible or feasible for the platforms to check the veracity of each campaign being run on AdWords or of each domain name being purchased. It is because these platforms are protected from liability over how anyone uses them, that they are able to scale to such a large scale, allowing billions of users. If such platforms were held liable for each piece of content or advertising, it wouldn’t be possible for them to survive that liability, and in turn, it would lead to users and usage being severely restricted. Advertisements that are misleading or end up duping customers have also existed in the newspaper world.

In the same way, a domain registrar is just a pointer towards a website, and it’s impossible for them to know and verify the activities of each website. There is a due process which exists under Section 79 of the IT, for informing intermediaries of activities, and they need to act only upon being provided actual knowledge. Remember that before the Shreya Singhal judgment, intermediaries were receiving frivolous notices and taking down content to avoid risking liability.

What can Amul do about this?

Amul could have filed a complaint with the Cyber cell of the state police and a case against the fraudulent parties, and notice can be served to Google or Godaddy for taking down of the content, and helping identify those who ran the campaign.

MediaNama has been unable to contact Amul on what transpired with the complaint it raised with the Cyber Cell of Ahmedabad police, or which domain registrars it raised the issue with. We will update this when we hear from Amul.

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