My nieces are on Facebook even though they are under 13 years. With Facebook reducing its joining age to 13, it has opened the gates for a newer set of audience. But, even if it was 18 years, we are well aware how the social network can be fooled as there is no physical check. Former BJP ideologue and a present patron of RSS, KN Govindacharya has filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Delhi High Court as to how children below 18 years are accessing Facebook, as reported by IBNLive.
After hearing the argument of Govindacharya’s counsel Veerag Gupta, Delhi Court has sought for the Center’s response on the field plea which has raised few questions such as,
1. How children below the age of 18 years are allowed to open an account on social networking sites including Facebook, even though Indian laws do not permit it.
2. Ensuring proper accounting compliances by Facebook and Google as per RBI guidelines. The PIL says that Facebook’s gross revenue for previous year was $37 billion approximately but they are not paying due taxes to the Indian government.
3. The petition has also sought a direction to ensure safety of the data of Indian users. The PIL highlighted that personal data is being used for commercial gains and is violating the right to privacy.
4. The petition has also suggested creation of a national register of persons indulging in sexual offences and heinous crimes and stopping such persons from joining social networking websites.
5. Finally the petition which listed the alleged violations of various terms by the social networks, also sought a direction to the Centre to ensure that government officers “do not use social networking websites through government computers” as they may pose a threat to sensitive data and national computer network.
Sumit Pushkarna, the counsel for the Centre has been asked by a bench of justices, BD Ahmed and Vibhu Bakhru to make the government’s stand clear on the issue. The Center has been asked to file an affidavit within 10 days in response to the PIL raised.
The PIL has raised some valid concerns by Govindacharya but how rational are they?
The primary concern of the PIL is how children below the age of 18 years old are allowed to open an account on social networking sites like Facebook. The argument that has been provided for this concern is that such activities are against the laws of our country such as Indian Majority Act, the Indian Contract Act and also the Information and Technology Act.
But Govindacharya has possibly not thought of the rationality of implementing such checks. Facebook has no such check in place and for that matter even porn sites have no checks for age verification. I am not sure if there is any technology at present that can verify a user’s actual age while being online. In a country where forging real age is so common, we are trying to stop it online.
The other point that was raised was regarding the non-payment of taxes to Indian government for the usage of social networking sites, which is beyond my understanding. The company that is located in the US is paying taxes there and the Indian operations is paying taxes here. So, why should Facebook pay taxes and if that is the case then Mark Zuckerberg will have to pay taxes more or less to the entire world except China.
Finally, the petition also asks the government to stop people who have been found guilty of indulging in sexual offences and heinous crimes from joining Facebook. Again how is this going to be possible since I am assuming that these criminal minds won’t be creating profiles with their real names!
Internet has given immense power to anonymity. Nevertheless, the PIL raises some realistic concerns such as safety of data and how social networking sites are hungry for user’s personal data. An ongoing issue for which Facebook has been criticized from a pretty early stage.
But it would be interesting to see what the Center has to say in its affidavit.
P.S. I am no expert on a subject like Law; thoughts expressed here are from my understanding of social networks and rationality.