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Sunday, May 27, 2012

India To Probe Google: Did the Search Giant Fall Into A Cultural Trap?

Posted by: danish Ahmed 8:41 PM


 A web services company running 400 portals sues Google for anti-competitive practices,according to  thenextweb.com . What I find interesting is that the former says that Google indulged in discriminatory practices in Adwords. Now, I haven’t used Adwords myself but all these years I haven’t come across any other advertising mechanism capable of delivering as contextually relevant ads than those based on web analytics. And no one does that better than Google Recently, Forbes reported how Target Corporation figured out that a teen girl was pregnant before even her father did. NYTimes provides a more comprehensive view on how companies learn your secrets


What these companies do is keep track of your shopping behavior and patterns. On the Internet it becomes far too easy and powerful. Every time you go online, these companies track and collect bits of information about you. Given the fact that most of us share our intimate details (if not proactively, our online activity ensures it). Algorithms take this data, to analyze, detect patterns and behavioral tendencies to predict what your future requirement is likely to be. More often than not, these analysis are close, I have noticed that even spam mails are usually related to offers which in one way or the other is related to my want. 



According to thenextweb.com the complainant alleges Google engaged in discriminatory and retaliatory practices in AdWords for its matrimonial site Bharatmatrimony.com. I have no information to speculate what the actual allegations are but what I do know is that no algorithm can decode the  intricate complexities that lie in the concept of Indian matrimonial system! While rest of the world population use dating sites, social networks and the whole web in general, leveraging technology to let people discover each other and form relationships, people of the Indian sub-continent (including Pakistan and the diaspora) prefer an entirely different mechanism called matrimonial agencies. 

Matrimonial agencies as such are older than many other agencies.Traditionally, in the subcontinent, marriages are fixed by the parents, family and even friends,at times even without informing the candidates themselves leave alone assent. In modern times,the form as well as the approach may have changed but the essence remains the same. Taking this to the print media or electronic media doesn't change the fact that in this age too marriage is not seen as a union or contract between two individuals but as alliance between two families. if not all profile tend to contain not just the bio-data of candidates No wonder matrimonial sites are some of the most successful ventures on web. But then in India social networking and dating sites are popular too. Younger generation finds itself swept into cyber space, using social networking sites discovering new people and forming relationships with them, even romantic relationships but when it comes to tying the knot somehow matrimonial sites seem more "traditional" 


The hypocrisy doesn't end here, since some of the practices are no longer treated honorably they are now presented in different form. Matrimonial column in newspapers now carry information which for most of would seem cryptic. An abbreviation that perplexed for some time is BHP often used in conjunction with the words "contact with BHP". It was only after putting in some effort,that I found that B stood for date of birth, H for Horoscope and P for picture. For those adhering to astrology more rigorously, just horoscope isn't sufficient, it must also state if the candidate,especially the bride, is a manglik or not and what their gothra is.I find it highly amusing that qualification and profession of parents and/or sibling are also provided in the candidates profile perhaps to suggest how much dowry (euphemistically called "gifts") the family can afford or expect (if it is a prospective groom's profile). A couple of years back I had read a column by my favorite columnist Santosh Desai,which was about decoded the matrimonial lingo. I couldn't find the article online but the search did indicate that it may be included in his book,"Mother Pious Lady" (itself, a rather common phrase in matrimonial lingo) which I have just ordered online and you can by clicking here.           




Sunni
Shia
Ahle-Hadeeth
Dawoodi Bohra
Hunbali
Dekkani
Pathan
Khoja, 
 Mughal
Mapila
Maraicar
Zaidi
Bengali
Ismaili
Siddiqui
Ithna-Asharriyah
Hanafi
Memon
Rajput
Malik
Shafi

However, it is rampant casteism in our society that matrimonials expose.If anyone who tells me that after a 60 years (or is it 100 years) of affirmative action and criminalizing caste-based discrimination,  casteism is on decline my (and a million's) spontaneous reply is ,"check out the matrimonial column in this Sunday's newspaper". These are not illiterate villagers but educated and affluent people!We all are aware of casteism being an age old Hindu tradition which a lot of reformers are doing away with but visit a matrimonial site and you would find names of a dozen Muslim castes (saying Muslim not Islamic intentionally). Caste is an alien concept in Islam and Christianity. Of course there are sects and madhabs and the great Shia-Sunni divide but they are in no way similar with the concept of caste. Imagine my surprise after I came across a dozen 'Muslim' caste names. 


Christians too have number "castes" such as Baptists, Born-Agin which in reality are sects not caste but I was literally Lolling to find a caste labelled "convert" !!!


Coming back to Google and contextual advertisement I wouldn't be surprised in the least if analytics mess up deliver inappropriate or misleading adverts.The algorithms are based on mathematical rules and normal human behavior. but matrimonial sites employ concepts which may be innovative but defy rules of logic,needless to say, hypocrisy is not the standard human behavior . Anyway, the very concept of marriage in present day India defies logic,driven in opposite directions by the traditional and the modern. In a culture whose tradition insists on marriage being a sacred institution, employing sophisticated technology for, match-making only ,reduces it to yet another online transaction and to quote Santosh "it makes persons into bundles of saleable attributes"


Food for thought : Did Google deliberately follow discriminatory practices ?   Is it a ploy against it or has Google's all powerful engine meet an unusual barrier it couldn't scale ? 
Please leave feedback :)    


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