The Delhi High Court has asked the Indian government to explain why it is allowing individuals below 18 years of age to register on social networking sites such as Facebook and Google, reports The Hindu Businessline. The next hearing has been scheduled for May 13, 2013 with the Union of India being directed to file an affidavit on the issue within 10 days, and why this is particularly interesting (and worrying) is that the lawyer arguing for former RSS leader K.N. Govindacharya, who had filed the petition, is pointing towards Know Your Customer norms applicable to telecom companies. The petition has also sought verification of all existing and new members of the social networking site.

Facebook currently only allows users above 13 years of age to register on its website, and this is because the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in the US requires web sites to give special treatment to minors under 13 years of age. Similarly, in Spain and South Korea, Facebook doesn’t allow minors under 14, however, it does not take into account Indian laws that forbid minors below 18 to register on social networking sites.

Our Take

When people lie about their age to create social profiles, it becomes difficult for these websites to verify every account. While creating an account on these sites is easy, implementing Know Your Customer (KYC) for customer verification could make it cumbersome dissuading users from registering on these networks. Even if KYC was implemented, what about kids who register for these sites with the knowledge and consent of their parents? Also, why should social networks be equated with telecom operators and banks, because those guidelines are largely because of addressing issues related to fraud and national security.

Interestingly, according to another report by NDTV, Govindacharya has also sought the creation of a national register of persons indulging in sexual offences and heinous crimes and stopping such persons from joining social networking websites.

Social Networking Sites and Indian Government

In 2011, Indian government had asked ISPs and sites like Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to “pre-screen” user generated content from India. Facebook had however responded that it intends to keep Facebook as a free and neutral platform where people can discuss thing freely and it already has policies and on-site features that enable people to report abusive content. Google had also responded that the company will continue to remove content only if it is illegal or breaks its terms of service.