By Shriram Venkatraman, on 20 May 2013
The Delhi High Court had questioned the Union Government of India on why minors (children below 18 years of age) were on Facebook and Google. This was in response to a case filed by an ideologue of a major political party in India. The issue they wanted explained was how someone under the age of 18 years could enter into a contract with a company as according to the Indian laws, this cannot be done by any minor in India.
Facebook allows user registration with an email address, so when creating an email address, one again needs to electronically sign a contract ticking the acceptance of terms and services of the service provider, so would signing up for an email addresses also be blocked and not available for anyone under the age of 18? Or would it be fine if the students let their parents know that they are signing up for email address, so that they have now received their parents consent? But, according to the law, wouldn’t that also be wrong, as these services require the user to enter into a contract and not their parents or guardians? So should these service providers now create consent forms to be signed in by the parents of these children rather than by the children themselves? What would then happen to the first generation learners in India? Several schools and educational institutions would then be in the wrong as they now ask their students to have email addresses and sign in to educational groups. Several summer camps, hobby groups for children and children’s clubs might be contravening the law, as they really haven’t enlightened the law to their child members nor have they followed it.
Similar is the case with educational e-applications now selling (downloading) like hot cakes on smart phones and tablets, they all require the user to “Agree and Install”. It seems like several of these need to be looked into now. Similar is the case with multi user online games, which are pretty popular among children in India.
Wouldn’t this mean that any child, who owns a laptop, should not install any legal applications (even an update), because they ask the user to enter into a contract with them – where the user needs to tick the box that he/she understands the terms under which the application is installed in his/her system. Should this also require the consent of the parents then?
So, is the intent on the online security of these children when they get into such social networking sites? Or is it just blindly following a law that states no one under the age of 18 can enter into agreement or sign a contract? If so, wouldn’t this apply to all avenues of one’s life, rather than just to Facebook or Google alone, why target just these companies alone? If the intent is on child security online, then shouldn’t the base of this case filing itself be different? The question of why have the court and/or India woken up to this after such a long time still persists? If children are said to be creating fake profiles and if such faking is punishable with imprisonment by law, it also may seem as if several Indian children would have to be placed in juvenile homes.
It seems like Facebook as a company had let the US authorities know that almost 80 million Facebook accounts were fake, as there was no user verification. Statistics show only people aged above 18 years on Facebook, however, it is evident that this might not necessarily be the case. Would Facebook consider removing these 80 million fake profiles?
It would definitely be interesting to wait and watch at the proceedings in this case and how the law of the land unfolds itself in due course.