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Vodafone’s Indian operation Vodafone Essar has dropped legal action against a customer that dared criticize its services on Facebook.

The carrier has bowed to public pressure after causing a social media backlash when it legally threatened a customer to cease making negative comments on Facebook or contact its customer service staff.

In a furore that mirror's Vodafone's "Vodafail" woes in Australia, Vodafone Essar sent a legal notice to Mumbai resident Dhaval Valia over posts on his Facebook wall that complained about Vodafone’s service and its 3G mobile coverage.

The legal threat alleged that Valia - as a customer - was responsible for defamatory statements on Facebook, sending “unneeded and unwarranted text messages to the company's senior officers“, posting the “names and contact details“ of two senior Vodafone officers and “intentional and mischievous conduct”, particularly against a female staff member.

One of the posts on his Facebook wall read: “Finally got Vodafone to admit that across Mumbai they have only 50% cell sites on 3G. Spoke to CEO and CMO. Told them that this is blatant cheating.”

The cease-and-desist told Valia to cease calling Vodafone officials and to refrain from making defamatory statements on social networking sites and remove earlier posts within 48 hours.

Vodafone Essar threatened that if he didn’t comply, he would face “civil and criminal proceedings.”

Since the legal engagement from the carrier, Valia has been posting on the progress on his legal woes on his Facebook page and others including the ‘Unhappy to Help – Vodafone’ community Facebook page. On Friday he announced that Vodafone had backed down.

“So finally Vodafone relents. After two long meetings and several calls and SMS and emails with over two weeks one of their very senior management person sent me a mail today early morning stating that they have in 'good faith' decided to withdraw the legal notice. However they cannot concede to paying damages/compensation. I have informed them that I retain my right for a legal recourse,” he said on Facebook.

The email from Vodafone apologized for the “mental agony” their action had caused. “The most important thing was that, as a customer, you were unhappy and our effort was to see how we could provide the service that would bridge the gap and make a fresh start in a manner of speaking. On our part, we have unilaterally stopped communicating to media. Please accept our efforts as genuine,” the Vodafone Essar email said.

The backflip email adds “as a customer-obsessed organization, we have always welcomed critical feedback and suggestions from both direct and social media customers as it helps us to constantly improve ourselves to serve their discerning needs.” ®

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