District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (DCDRC), Gondia: In the instant ‘unique’ complaint, relief in the nature of directions to Facebook were sought vis-a-vis discontinuation of unfair/ restrictive trade practices; not putting up misleading advertisements and neutralization of the effect of misleading advertisements on their platform. The coram of Bhaskar B. Yogi (President) and Sarita B. Raipure (Member) directed Facebook and Meta Inc. to run scam related awareness advertisement on various media, social sites, TV and OTT platforms to create awareness regarding various scam on regular basis to neutralize the impact of misleading advertisements. The Commission also stated that Facebook has a legal and social duty and obligation to provide funding to a step-by-step service to aid and advise the public regarding online frauds and scams.
Facts of the case: The complainant who hails from Maharashtra, is a daily wager coming from Below Poverty Line Family and currently remains unemployed due to Covid19 pandemic. Facebook (opposite party) is a major social networking site.
The complainant is an active Facebook user. On 16-09-2020, the complainant noticed on his Facebook-wall an advertisement of Marya Studio, offering shoes of Nike Company for Rs. 599. As the advertisement was on Facebook, the complainant did not doubt its authenticity and immediately placed the order for shoes and paid Rs. 599 through his debit card. The Complainant waited for a long time but he did not receive any text or call from the Marya Studio regarding shipping of the shoes booked by him, and since Facebook did not contain any contact details of Marya Studio, therefore the complainant googled Marya Studio’s customer care number and in result he came to the website www.consumersathi.com which showed 4-5 numbers of Marya Studio Customer Care. The Complainant called on one of the numbers and the person receiving the call introduced themselves as Marya Studio’s Customer Care Executive. The person sent a link to the Complainant and asked him to fill debit card details in that link for the purposes of refund. The Complainant was further asked to download AnyDesk App in order to receive the refund amount. The Complainant did as he was instructed and also the provided the OTP number as required by the Customer Care Executive. However, the complainant was duped for Rs. 7568.
Thereafter the complainant tried to bring this fraud to the notice of Facebook (via Twitter and then e-mail) and sought compensation of Rs. 7568, but Facebook never replied. Therefore the complainant was compelled to knock the doors of the District Commission, Gondia, against Facebook.
Contentions: The counsels of the complainant put forth the following contentions-
- It was argued that Facebook voluntarily and intentionally runs a false, frivolous, misleading and fraudulent advertisement and causes loss to the public at large. The complainant pointed out the names of the many fake pages advertised on Facebook like- Marya Studio, Yaryastudio, Crunchkart, G9fashionnn etc. The complainant also cited the names of other persons who were victims of such fake advertisements.
It was argued that the complainant is unemployed has suffered a lot due to the loss of the afore-stated amount. It was stated that he has no money to buy groceries and vegetables and that him and his family members are suffering from starvation. Such circumstances have caused a great deal of mental and physical pain to the Complainant and his family.
Per-contra, the opposite parties (Facebook/ Meta) argued on the following points-
- It was contended that Complaint is not maintainable since the Complainant is not a ‘consumer‘ of Facebook India.
- It was submitted that Facebook India is a wrong entity for adjudicating this Complaint since it does not operate/control the Facebook service- as Facebook would be considered as an intermediary, and therefore, immune from liability under the provisions of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Furthermore Facebook would be under no obligation to proactively monitor the Facebook Service under the IT Act and as per the decision of the Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, (2015) 5 SCC 1.
Meta submitted that it has taken reasonable steps to enforce policies to protect its users and offers several user friendly tools to enable users to report violations of these policies.
Observations: Based on the facts and contentions presented in the case, the Commission framed certain important issues and made the following observations-
- The Commission pointed out that to establish the consumer-service provider relationship, the complainant has to prove whether he has paid any consideration for service while buying online product from third party. Perusing the details provided by the complainant, the Commission observed that complainant paid Rs 599 for purchase of the shoe, whose advertisement was hosted on Facebook. The revenue of opposite parties mainly comes by selling the space for advertising which is clear from their Memorandum of Association. The Commission thus noted that the complainant falls under the category of ‘consumer’.
- The Commission noted that the complainant suffered from financial loss due to misleading advertisement. However, the Commission deliberated on the extent to which the opposite party was bound to compensate. The Commission perused the “Help Centre” details provided on Facebook titled “Privacy, safety and security- Shopping safety”. It was noted that transaction of buying shoes Rs. 599 was due to a misleading advertisement; but, the second transaction of sharing OTP and personal bank details by the complainant was due to his own unawareness regarding online scams, therefore can be termed as ‘contributory negligence’ for which the opposite parties are not liable.
It was observed that the Government of India has taken various measure to curb the menace of online fraud from time to time by inserting concerned provisions in the Consumer Protection Act and Consumer Protection (E-commerce) Rules, 2020. It was noted that the law provides a clear mandate of compliance for social media websites. The Commission pointed out that complainant was lured to purchase the product by looking to the rate of the shoes, and it is mandatory obligations of e-commerce websites to provide complete name, address, contact numbers, email address of the seller so that in case of any consumer grievance it can be redressed immediately. The e-commerce websites, as prescribed by RBI have a Corporate Social Responsibility to educate the masses regarding various online frauds. It was stated that opposite parties failed to sufficiently safeguard and protect the Indian consumers from unscrupulous exploitation.
Decision/Directions: Perusing the facts and contentions presented by the parties and making the afore-stated observations, the Commission partly allowed the complaint and made the following directions-
- The opposite parties are to pay to the complainant the price of product (Nike shoes) not delivered i.e. Rs. 599. The opposite parties were directed to pay Rs. 25,000 for mental agony and legal costs suffered by the complainant.
- Facebook/ Meta directed to comply the Consumer Protection (e-commerce) Rules, 2020 in letter and spirit and submit report of compliance within a period of 45 days to this Commission.
Facebook was directed to issue corrective advertisement in order to neutralize the effect of misleading advertisement that came to question in the instant complaint.
[Tribhuvan v. Facebook India Online Services Pvt. Ltd., Complaint No. : CC/117/2020, decided on 30-06-2022]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
Sagar J. Chavhan, Advocate, for the Complainant;
M. B. Ramteke, Advocate, for Opposite Parties.
*Sucheta Sarkar, Editorial Assistant has prepared this brief