Misrepresentation? A look at OLX vs. MyBenta legal threat
I received a question lately from several online contacts in relation to MyBenta.com’s open email to RJ David’s warning and legal threat composed by its founder – Emmanuel Rey Mariano. The questions center on – “Can a competing classified ad website send an email or text message to OLX sellers informing them of their services (similar to OLX )? Is this illegal?”
The OLX we know today was the former Sulit.com.ph website. It started out as a free classified ads posting site supported by ads and premium listing. This year, free posting was limited. Anyone wanting to post more should pay a fee for extra. In essence, based on my conversation with RJ David at the recent PeepCon event, “The focus is more on quality rather than quantity. A good number of OLX users as well have started using their mobile app” (that seems to be not tracked yet by Alexa).
Since OLX pursued this limited posting policy, several sites came out more aggressively whose business model reflect what Sulit was originally all about. One of them is MyBenta. Based on their Alexa ranking, MyBenta seems to be building momentum in comparison to its counterparts.
Here are my personal views on the matter in relation to what Emmanuel of MyBenta said in his open reply.
False representation or computer related identity theft?
Based on RJ’s original message in the open reply, the issue seems to anchor on “misrepresentation though the text messages sent”. As I don’t have a copy of MyBenta’s text message, I can’t assess whether their text messages can be viewed as misrepresentation of OLX or computer related identity theft (as defined in the Cybercrime Law).
Blogger and gadget cellphone enthusiast Ronj A. of BenteUno.com shared receiving a text message from an anonymous number sometime ago. “I’ve received an sms once from an unknown number saying that olx is not free anymore. At the latter part of the message it says “… Follow other Filipino online sellers migrate to –www.mybenta.com” Sayang lang I don’t have the sms na with me. I wish I could’ve taken a screenshot. It’s just I’ve been receiving marketing sms lately kaya nabubura ko agad. But I was really shocked with that sms, kasi I sell preloved items sa olx/sulit for more than 1 year na.“
IF what Ronj A. shared indeed came from MyBenta, then it is likely that this is the one that caught OLX attention. Saying that OLX is no longer free may not exactly be accurate as they still have free listing although limited. Implying that “the sellers are migrating” may be viewed as either a competitor or OLX sending a public announcement of a new site to be used. It can be misunderstood. (But then again, from the visual looks of the site, it is likely the difference between OLX and MyBenta would be obvious. Unless those who got the text message assumed that MyBenta is affiliated with OLX.)
Data privacy violation?
In the case of OLX, the seller’s info is not displayed publicly by default such as the contact number of the seller. Although you can click the text under it that allows you to view the full info.
OLX can argue that getting such info is a violation of their user’s data privacy (they may indicate that the info was misused – outside of its original intent – which is to get inquiries on the products they are selling) and their intellectual property (although debatable if we view the content as the seller’s and / or OLX’s intellectual property).
Although MyBenta may also argue that they did not violate any OLX guidelines as there is no mention of any prohibition on contacting sellers to offer competing services in its terms and conditions.
Data privacy rights
By default, if there is no consent from the data subject (which is all of us Filipinos) on how our info is used (such as email or mobile number or information), each one of us can demand for source of info and ask for such to be removed.
We can also complain to the telecommunications company or NTC about any number or entity sending messages repeatedly – tantamount to spamming.
In any classified ads site vs OLX, it will drag OLX if the user perceived the text or email message they got from any classified ads site appeared to be coming from OLX — worst if they have paid for advertising services with that assumption. (Although in this case – from the visual looks of their site, it seems unlikely for MyBenta to be mistaken for OLX. Unless those who got the text or email message assumed that MyBenta is affiliated with OLX.)
RJ’s past actions relevant?
Emmanuel quoted RJ several times in the open reply citing interviews on how RJ built his site. Using RJ’s past marketing practices against him may be irrelevant as the Data Privacy Law and Cybercrime Law does not exist then yet.
OLX vs. MyBenta in courts soon?
More or less, I have an idea on what will be done to build a strong case on both defense or offense. Posting that message / reply to RJ publicly (which I think is partly a violation of RJ’s data privacy and intellectual property – email has copyright too) does not help as it can be perceived with the intention of putting RJ in a bad light (there goes libel).
With that kind of open reply (which may be perceived as a “dare”), It seems MyBenta is ready for a legal battle. Although OLX has resources, will they likely hesitate or use it?
Let market forces prevail?
I truly believe in the spirit of competition. Let the market decide. There is a space for everyone under the sun – as I would usually say.
Although I admit that it becomes a different story when users of SITEA starts complaining about inconvenience experienced on unsolicited messages received from SITEB, SITEC, SITED – as a result of being listed. Worst, if they make a wrong assumption on the source and content of messages – perceiving it as from SITEA – when it is not.