One of the most frequently googled post on this blog is Indian Women: Beware of Orkut. They use many different keywords to land on that post: photo misuse on Orkut, indian women abuse orkut, and so on. Sometimes, Orkutians post a link to my article while ‘scrapping’ their friends in Orkut, and I get several hits from within Orkut itself.
Well, we all know how Orkut is being misused, so why do Indians, especially women and girls, stick with it when there are better alternatives available? Facebook for example, offers some of the best privacy features among all the social networking sites. You can choose who can see your profile and what information can or cannot be searched. You can pick and choose select parts of your profile for a select group of friends. You can control what information is shared when you message or send a friend request.
If one is familiar with Facebook’s privacy features, one will feel naked in Orkut. So why do Indian girls and women still stick to Orkut? Bollywood stars have already started migrating in droves from Orkut to Facebook. Will their fans and the Indian public follow?
Here are some points to ponder:
1. ‘Critical mass’ is a significant factor in such communities. Most people will join what most others have already joined, propelling the #1 even higher in numbers. There are over 7 million Indian Orkut visitors in July 2007, compared to 0.78 million for Facebook. Orkut is MTV’s Youth Icon 2007. Another factor of course, is general knowledge and awareness of the Internet and other alternatives.
2. As per Agencyfaqs citing ComScore: “Facebook grew phenomenally in India between April and June 2007, attracting an additional 323,000 unique visitors. The privacy issue, especially for women users, is reflected in the better representation they have on Facebook. While 40.7 per cent of unique visitors from India on Facebook are women, they constitute 28 per cent in Orkut.” So, at least some Indian women are already getting wiser!
3. However strong privacy features you introduce in a social networking platform, it cannot protect you always. Like they say, if you make something idiot-proof, someone will invent a better idiot!
4. More intriguingly, I wonder if the lack of privacy features in Orkut are uniquely tempting for the Indian youth. Is our repressive social culture driving our youth to sneak and peek into each other’s Orkut profiles instead? Our present social context bans dating. Does Orkut provide a safe way to get to know some more information about that heartthrob in your college? Does it help screen that boy or girl your parents introduced to you on your own terms and on your own platform, away from your parents scrutiny?
If that is indeed the case, then networks like Facebook will never gain critical volume in India. What do you think?
This is the spookiest thing I’ve ever seen on the Internet yet. A revolutionary people-focused search engine, Spock, launched into public beta today.
About 30% of all search traffic is people related – about 20 billion search queries per month. How is it different from Google or other mainstream search engines? If you Google “boxer”, you’ll get the Wikipedia entry for boxer dogs. Spock will give you Muhammed Ali and Mike Tyson.
Spock scans social networks such as LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook, and other sites like Wikipedia, Flickr, and blogs. It then pulls that information into a concise summary about a person, such as his occupation, interests, age, marital status, photo, religious affiliations, and hometown. A click on the summary reveals related Web sites and known associates.
I decided to check how far I had been ‘spocked’:
Wow. It already knows I work in the IT industry, though it got my title wrong. But, this shows it has already crawled my LinkedIn profile. Since I am virtually a nobody on this planet, let’s check out what Spock comes up with for an Indian sportswoman currently in the news for her stellar performance:
Notice how it has correlated her Wikipedia entry with her photograph on a magazine cover, and with her fan sites. “Disambiguating people, and then collapsing multiple sources of information into a single entry, or entity resolution, is part of the secret sauce of a people search engine.”, says Tim O’Reilly, who seems excited about Spock. That’s not all.
As a community user, I can add my own ‘tags’ to this person. I can, for example, tag her as “stupid” or “sexy”. Me and other community members are able to ‘vote’ a tag ‘up or down’. What is alarming is that even if you “claim your profile”, the Spock community gets the final say in the vote, as per this Time article.
How easily can this be used for snooping, privacy intrusion, and humiliation? Let’s say I’m a male student spurned by a girl in college. I tag her as “easy” on Spock. My friends and their friends vote the tag up. Another college student, who has heard rumors about an easily available girl in college, searches for her on Spock. And gets all the information he needs to start intruding her private life. As a more family friendly experiment, I searched for a female student using a common Indian first name:
(I’ve deliberately obfuscated the last name to respect the person’s privacy). I did not use any special tags, at all. The link to the MySpace site told me more about the person than, in this case, I wanted to know.
Spock has already ‘indexed’ over 100 million people. It doesn’t just crawl and index metadata. It tries to figure out who each document and web page is about.
Spock is not driving around town taking photographs of streets and shooting your pets or living room like Google. But it is driving through each and every narrow street, lane, path and avenue of cyberspace, while looking at you, what you’ve done, your relatives and friends, and trying to understand and make sense of it all. You think such a site will be banned? Forget that, even getting your own profile deleted may be legally difficult, according to Time.
This beast has only discovered my LinkedIn profile yet. Then it will discover me on Orkut. Once it crawls my blog, it will understand that the ‘About Me’ page really talks about me, and extract tags about my beliefs from it. It would probably guess from the URL of my blog that ‘mahendrap’ is my username on WordPress. It will then be able to link all the comments I’ve ever made in the blogosphere to me. It will crawl Flickr and YouTube and find pictures and videos. And like Mr. Spock, it will be completely unemotional about it all. It will methodically gather, process, and organize everything it finds about me. Can anything ever be spookier?
Once an issue becomes a mainstream news item in India, you can be sure every major religious group, political party, student organization, and celebrity will have an opinion on it. After the Shiv Sena, it’s now the All India Minorities Front’s (AIMF) turn to freely express their views on Orkut while living in democratic India.
What are odds that the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) will not be the next to express their views from Gujarat?
How does one issue become mainstream? Well, one of the TV channels has to take the bait, and the rest will follow. The print and electronic media will then aggressively offer the right platform for everyone to get their views miscommunicated, taken out of context, and misquoted. Competing with a dozen other news channels and newspapers, the one creating the most sensationalism and misunderstanding will win the most eyeballs, goes the wisdom. There will be talk shows with pundits, and opinion polls, and public talks shows.
In all this brouhaha, two things happen. Not only is the true issue misrepresented to various extents and typically blown out of proportion, but other significant newsworthy items are all but ignored.
How many of you recollect tomorrow’s British PM-to-be, Gordon Brown’s high profile visit to India? No? Not surprising, because the Indian media never knew of anything else happening in the world apart from Big Sister Shilpa Shetty in Big Brother!
Not only is this phenomenon unique of India. For e.g., in the US, the retirement of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman was relegated to the background over more important stuff like celebrities being jailed for drunk driving.
While US Cable TV was obsessed with drunk-driver-celebrities (DDC, a long wanted title):
“President Bush skipped the final session of the G8 Summit, Vice President Dick Cheney needed to have his heart pacemaker replaced, and NASA’s Space Shuttle Atlantis prepared for launch!”
In India, it’s Cricket Coach Controversy, Big Sister abused on Big Brother, the AAA (Abhi-Aish-Amitabh) wedding, Big Uncle kissing Big Sister, so on and so forth. Too much coverage, too many opinions, too many mountains out of molehills. When this happens – and its happening with increasing frequency – I need a break. To regain my sense, rejuvenate my capacity to reason, to make this world meaningful again.
Then I listen to Kumar’s Nirguni Bhajans (or read this review) , or Mozart’s 40th in G Minor. Watch Ek Doctor Ki Maut, (or read this review by my friend, Asuph), or dream of taking a yacht cruise like Gail Wynand in The Fountainhead. What can you do? Escape to the Himalayas by reading my Spiti Travelogue! Just kidding…though I do that too, sometimes!
I had found 270 members in Orkut’s “I Hate Shiv Sena” community when I wrote about Cherishing Indian Democracy. Today, the same community has 555 members. In one week, the strength of the community has doubled!
This is what’s called the ”The Streisand Effect“:
“…has become another victim of the “Streisand effect,” an increasingly common backlash that occurs when someone tries to muzzle information on the Web. When the Streisand effect takes hold, contraband doesn’t disappear quietly. Instead, it infects the online community in a pandemic of free-speech-fueled defiance, gaining far more attention than it would have, had the information’s original owners simply kept quiet.”
The article also shows what a difficult time sites like YouTube are having to respond to true legal violations.
A comment on my previous post generated so many thoughts in response, that I thought it fit to create another post. Text in italics is from the comment on my earlier post.
Orkut is thriving on promotion of obscenity, defamation, anti India sentiments and other illegal activities.
Orkut thrived in India much before it was used for obscenity and defamation. While obscenity and defamation are indeed illegal, Orkut thrives not *because of* these activities, but in spite of it. It is primarily used by majority of Indians (over 8 million) for social networking purposes. The folks who use it for illegal activities are a miniscule minority.
Many users think it is their birth right to use the space for hurting others.
Nothing is wrong in a democracy to express viewpoints that may hurt others. We do have strict laws that prohibit expressions that may hurt private or religious sentiments, and Orkut has assisted Indian authorities in removing such content.
The violators forget that by their action they are disrespecting the privacy and freedom of the victims.
Yes, but that is not Orkut’s fault. It is simply providing the platform for communication and community-formation. Disrespecting freedom of any other person is not against the law as long as there is no cognizable action. With respect to privacy, yes, it is illegal (see my post Indian Women: Beware of Orkut), and Orkut does assist Indian law enforcement (US-speak for police) authorities to take punitive action against those who disrespect the privacy of others.
It is therefore correct to put a reign on Orkut. It is unfotunate that in India we need to take the long winding route of approaching the CERT every time such violations take place.
We do not need to approach CERT every time a violation takes place. Orkut has cooperated excellently with urban police authorities to track down criminals who use it for obsenity or defamation. Wherever Indian law has been violated, Orkut has extended its full support to track down the perpetrators of the crime.
While “banning” may not the ideal solution, it is a necessary threat at least as a measure to remove the incentives available for Orkut to continue promotion of illegal activities.
Orkut has never *promoted* illegal activities. It is simply an enabling platform of communication and social community bonding. Someone can start an SMS campaign maligning a prominent historical figure, and gain thousands, if not millions, of supporters. Then will you ban SMS? If someone starts a newspaper that is highly critical of the Congress, and invites letters and editorials seeking articles and opinions that are anti-Congress, including derogatory statements about our highly revered Prime Minister, will you ban that newspaper?
If your answer is yes, then what does Democracy mean? What is meant by “Freedom of Expression”?
The anti-India communities on Orkut are not destroying thousands of crores of public property in demonstrations, about which nothing is being done. It is a non-violent protest against India. Banning such communication platforms that allow people to express anti-India sentiments and thoughts is a reactive response that smirks of British Colonialism – ban, destroy, and kill everything and anyone anti-British in the hope that the British colonialism will survive. Did it work? If India has not learnt about non-violent protests in spite of its freedom struggle, who can?
The great value being placed on India’s phenomenal growth even if it is nothing compared to China, is that this growth is happening in the world’s most populous Democracy. Our constitution guarantees the fundamental right to speech, and I sometimes feel sad that Indians do not value its worth.
Maharashtra police want restrictions on Orkut
Maharashtra police want restrictions on Orkut
An attack by the Shiv Sena on cyber cafés in a suburb on Mumbai’s eastern fringes last week has prompted the state and Central governments to mull a ban on Orkut, a popular social-networking site operated by the Internet company Google.
On Friday, the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team in New Delhi will decide if it should accept a report sent to it by the Thane police recommending restrictions across India on Orkut, designed in January 2004 by Turkish software engineer Orkut Buyukkokten.
The Team was formed in 2003 under the Information Technology Act by the Central Ministry of Information and Technology to regulate online content. It can block websites it deems offensive.
Controller for Certification Dr N Vijayaditya told HT: “We have to study the police report before we come to a conclusion.”
Thane Deputy Commissioner of Police Anup Kumar Singh said: “While we await a report from the agency, cyber café owners in the region have been asked to request customers to refrain from using the website.”
This is like telling a kid “You can open the refrigerator if you like, but I request you not to eat the candy that’s kept in the upper shelf of the door”!
Why doesn’t the police take any action against the rioters, who caused destruction of private property, harassed cyber cafe owners, and thus broke the law?
I ultimately have faith in our judiciary who will never let a ban on Orkut prevail in India. But the brazenness of the police is still shocking.
I was appalled by a report in the Afternoon Dispatch & Courier today: “Cyber cafes ban Orkut”.
A day after Shiv Sainiks vandalised a cyber-cafe in Kalyan, protesting against certain hate-communities on the website Orkut.com on Sunday, cyber café owners in the city seem to be upset with the police for taking no action against the offenders.
Interestingly, the Mumbai police yesterday issued orders to all the cyber cafes in the city asking them to discourage people from using the Orkut website.
PSI G. Sawant of Kalachowki Police station said, “We have asked the cyber cafes in our locality to ban Orkut and not allow people to surf that site. We have got orders from our superiors to ask cyber cafes in our locality to ban it. Necessary action will be taken against cafes that are found violating the law.”
However, when asked, Sanjay Mohite, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Enforcement), said, “I am not aware of this order. But the local police stations may have asked cyber cafes to stop encouraging Orkut to be used by net surfers.”
A classic case of (mis)governance in India, where the left hand (or local authority) doesn’t know what the right hand (or
center) is up to. But this is alarming – are local police stations free to formulate their own “laws”?
I checked the Orkut Shiv Sena communities, there are about 63 in all with about 6000 users. Out of these 63, only 2 are
anti-Shive Sena communities. Only 1 is of note: ”I hate Shiv Sena”. The community describes itself as follows:
This Community is for all those people who are sick and tired of Bal Thackeray and his gang called shiv sena.. who for no good reason.. are spreading corruption in the country…They are responsible for creating mass riots, innumerable sources of destruction which have resulted in loss of time, money and innocent lives…
For their own selfish political needs they are exploiting the needy people in the country and in turn making everyone suffer… their fake communism and baseless chauvinism is a hindrance in the progress of the nation of its youth…
So, for all of u people who hate these political monsters, come, join this community and share ur beliefs!!!
The community also attempts to moderate posts on its message board by ostracizing anti-Maharashtra or anti-Shivaji
sentiments. These attempts are not always successful though. What is interesting, is that this community has just over 270
members. So because of these 270 members who may be spread all over the world, a group of Shiv Sainiks attacks a cyber
cafe in Kalyan?
While Orkut as a tool is used for ignominious purposes, it also has its positives. Whatever the case, it in no way violates any
Indian penal or civil law. On the other hand, attempts to ban Orkut are violations of the constitutional right to free speech.
The article further states:
An official of the cyber crime cell, who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “We had recently got Orkut to block allegedly defamatory content about Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Chhatrapati Shivaji and Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray. The site has been encouraging anti-Indian policies and people are agitated by it. We have asked cyber cafés to refrain from using the site. But soon, it may be completely banned in India.”
Are we going to adopt the Great Firewall of China? Remember, walls are built brick by brick. Today it is Orkut. Tomorrow
it will be YouTube. And so on. We must crush any attempts to (unlawfully) censor the Internet in India, and preserve our
Many days ago, I had written about the prevalent child abuse in India and how parents should safeguard against it, including educating your children about the dangers of the Internet. On the heels of that post, comes this article in the form of a warning, from CIOL.
“It was one of those normal evenings when Parmeet Kaur (name changed), a software engineer in Chennai, logged on to Orkut to unwind from work and catch up with friends.But one and a half minutes later, the evening turned shocking and miserable for her. What she saw was a cheeky scrap and forward to a profile that had her semi-nude photo in another girl’s profile, tagged as her sister who flagged joint hints of intimate advances and indecent invites. Parmeet’s photo had been brazenly and easily tampered with. After many weeks of tension and repeated requests to Orkut, the ID was removed. She vowed never to be vulnerable again.
Victims like Parmeet, are not one-off. They belong to the new breed of cautious Orkuters who either have said goodbye to networking or have got extremely careful with their communities and photographs.”
Better be safe than sorry.
“This February, the father of a South Delhi schoolgirl suffered from the fake profile of his daughter posted on Orkut that not only described the teenager as a ‘sex teacher’, but also contained obscene photographs and her contact details. He lodged a complaint with the Cyber Cell of the Delhi Police’s Economic Offences after his family started receiving calls following the appearance of the fake profile.
Can you imagine the father’s agony?
“There has been a spurt in Orkut-related obscenity cases in various parts of India like Bangalore this year. Cases of misuse on Orkut have been reported widely. In Bangalore, there have been eight to ten Orkut-related complaints concerning pictures of young girls that have been posted on communities with lewd allusions and a listing of the victims’ mobile numbers.”
The phenomenon is not restricted to any geographical regions, it is all over the country.
Some tips I gleaned from the article:
- Do not upload .jpeg, .epf, .pdf, and .tif photographs
- If you access Orkut from any Internet cafe, log out properly, and then close all browser windows
- If you find your privacy compromised in any way, don’t panic. Change your Google password as the first step.
- Use the features such as ‘Ignore User’ and ‘Report abuse’ if you ever get unsolicited invites or messages
Lastly, just like the child abuse statistics show, it is mostly acquaintances, not strangers, who are the culprits.
Akkunoor of India Forensic adds that normally users that abuse someone’s photo belong to acquaintances and not strangers. “It is mostly someone you already know. Chances of random offenders are rare.”
Read the full story here.