For the regular users of Facebook or Google, the question whether minors can open an account appears funny. But this is precisely what the Delhi High Court has asked the Indian Government in a PIL. (Details here). It would be interesting to know how Government of India will respond. Facebook and Google are also respondents to the case and their reply is also to be made in the next 10 days.
It is well known that minors constitute a large part of Facebook users and their business model thrives on the activity of these minors who seek friends and post messages of all kinds.
During the registration, Facebook asks for the date of birth and gives an explanation why the date of birth is asked, with the following pop up message.
“Providing your birthday helps make sure you get the right Facebook experience for your age. You can choose to hide this info from your timeline later if you want. For more details, please visit our Data Use Policy.
Not creating a personal account? If you’re here to represent your band (Sic), business or product, please create a Facebook Page.”
There is also a page on “Minors and Safety” which states as follows:
“We take safety issues very seriously, especially with children, and we encourage parents to teach their children about safe internet practices. To learn more, visit our Safety Center.
To protect minors, we may put special safeguards in place (such as placing restrictions on the ability of adults to share and connect with them), recognizing this may provide minors a more limited experience on Facebook.”
There is therefore a clear admission from Facebook that accounts can be opened by minors and except for the warnings no other preventive measures are taken by Facebook to block minors.
It is also not easy to accept an argument that minors should be barred from using Facebook because they cannot enter into a valid contract and agree for terms and conditions.
The fact is that even adults donot have a valid contract for opening the accounts either with Facebook or Google since Indian law does not recognize the “Click Wrap Contracts” represented by the “I Gree” kind of acceptances which these websites use.
At the same time Facebook is not concerned since it does not have any financial stake if minors use the account.
From the perspective of technology development, it is also undesirable to say that a person has to be of 18 years of age to use the Facebook. At a time when 16 year olds commit rapes and murders it is ridiculous to suggest that minors cannot use technology devices such as Facebook and Google. In fact today’s 16 year olds are more techno savvy than many older people. It will therefore be a regressive step to expect that minors cannot use social media or Google.
In fact, the Indian Majority Act itself is in need of change with the age of majority to be brought down from 18 to 16 for the contractual and CrPc purpose. The Internet use should be available under parental supervision from at least 12 years on wards.
I remember that earlier Yahoo used to get parental consent for opening accounts of minors above 13 years of age. Today Yahoo mail account can be opened using a facebook ID or a Google ID. Hence at present even Yahoo appears to have diluted the norms of providing service to minors.
Keeping the earlier practice of Yahoo, solutions can be found to this issue which both Facebook and Google can adopt which may satisfy the concerns of the Court without affecting their business interests to a significant extent.
It would be interesting to see how these companies now respond to the Court’s order.
Even when this issue of social media is being discussed, one can also raise the issue of whether minors can use mobile phones because mobiles also are individual communication devices though SIM cards or handsets can be owned by adults.