Home / News / India /  What is GitHub’s role in the Bulli Bai controversy?

What is the Bulli Bai controversy?

In essence, Bulli Bai is a software application that simulates an online auction. However, it’s not distributed through Google or Apple app store, unlike most widely apps. Instead, it’s hosted on a code repository  and software collaboration platform called GitHub. The  app shows photos of more than 100 Muslim women taken from the Internet and pretends  to sell them through auctions. While the auctions are fake,  the word “bulli" is a derogatory local slang. A similar app, Sulli Deals, was also hosted on GitHub last year. Like the word Bulli, Sulli too is a slur.

What is GitHub and  how does it work?

GitHub is the largest code repository platform used by developers, startups, and even big technology companies to harness the entire coding community’s efforts to develop an app. Microsoft Corp., Meta Platforms Inc. (Facebook), and Google LLC make their codes available on GitHub for others to use and develop. Microsoft bought GitHub for $7.5 billion in 2018 in one of its most expensive acquisitions ever. The platform also hosts source codes for Google’s Android operating system. Facebook offers the software development kit for both its Android and iOS apps on GitHub.

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So, what’s GitHub’s role in the controversy?

GitHub has rules against harassment, discrimination, and incitement to violence. It has taken down the accounts hosting  the app, but its hosting feature isn’t meant for mass distribution. Apps downloaded off GitHub are not finished products, and can often have bugs. But unlike social media, GitHub doesn’t have filtering algorithms.

What do code repositories do?

Code repositories are meant to help development worldwide. For in-stance, developers can download the source code for Android and use it to build their own version. A startup can quickly get codes that would help them add a new feature to their app or service through a code repository. In March, GitHub said India is the fastest growing country in terms of new developers contributing to open-source coding. The same code that was used to host fake auctions on Bulli Bai could theoretically be used to make a legitimate and useful auction app.

Can regulation stop such abuse?

Regulations may not help stop such incidents, but they can definitely speed up the investigative process. Since many tech firms are based overseas, police have to use tedious Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty process to get information, involving multiple foreign ministries. This is one reason India’s upcoming Data Protection Bill (DPB) insists on storing some data within the country’s borders, so that it can be accessed quickly when needed. That said, bills like the DPB are unlikely to stop apps like Bulli Bai in the future.

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