Monday, August 12, 2013

Indian court orders Facebook, Google to offer plans for protecting children

The New Delhi High Court has given Facebook and Google one month to submit suggestions on how minors can be protected online in India.

This move is in response to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by KN Govinacharya, a senior member of the right wing political party, the Rashtriya  Swayamsevak Sangh.

The PIL seeks to protect citizens of India from cyber crimes, which according to the government, has cost the exchequer $4 billion last year. Some of the highlights include the PIL pointing out that despite guidelines given by the government for companies to follow the KYC normal (“know your customer”), social networking companies do not follow them. The PIL believes that Facebook is not verifying its users, and instead allowing minors to set up accounts because it uses them for marketing, advertising, and data mining purposes.

Under Indian law, children under 13 are incompetent to enter into any legal contract, yet it states that Facebook allows children to sign into its website unverified because it seeks to make revenue from them through online gaming – and this is a direct reference to a contract between Facebook and Zynga to provide gaming applications to kids that accounts for 12.5% of Facebook revenue. The PIL stipulates that through incessant data mining through the unauthorized use of emails, photographs, passwords, chats, and so on, Facebook is infringing on the right to privacy of the Indian subscriber.

The bench of the Delhi High Court took the PIL seriously in light of the allegation that minors are entering into social media networking sites and are then being lured into illegal activities, either knowingly or unknowingly. According to reports the court’s direction came after counsel for Facebook submitted that the site operated under the US law Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) as per which a child below 13 is not allowed to open an account. The Court expressed unhappiness that there is no mechanism that currently exists to verify the age of a child online, and that while children were protected in the US, what of the children in India.

Facebook filed a counter-affidavit to the PIL and argued that limiting social media can limit an individual’s freedom of speech and expression. Drawing on the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution that internet is a human right, Facebook has argued that the “internet is increasingly becoming a platform for citizens including minors to interact and voice their opinions and, therefore, a meaningful interpretation of the right to freedom of speech and expression would include the freedom to access social media.”

However, cyber lawyer Pavan Duggal points out that despite the freedom of expression argument, “the issue still remains that a minor doesn’t have the capacity to act under the Contract Act.” Others have pointed out that users enter into agreements with Facebook and social networking sites, not contracts. Further, law professor Saurav Datta feels that the PIL’s suggestion that all users be verified itself impinges on their privacy, and that it, “the goal of the PIL is wrong. We need to protect children, not keep people out.”

Moving ahead, it remains to be seen what social networking sites can suggest for protecting minors online. At the same time, it seems educating minors about the dangers of the internet is a good way forward as well. Facebook has joined the Internet and Mobile Association of India to bring an Internet Safety Education programme for children between the ages of 13-17. Even though this was not designed as a response to the PIL, it certainly seems a step in the right direction, regardless of the Court’s decision.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Its a nice day to start again...

I forgotten about music. I know it seems like quite a strange statement to make but really, when I was in school and especially college, I always had music constantly playing in my life. I can never forget this train trip I took to Lucknow for this big inter-school competition called MacFair. A bunch of us from Welham took this overnight train, and I had borrowed my friend Rifq’s walkmen, which was almost always playing Def Lepard’s ‘The Vault’ on repeat. I remember being awake on the train – I always took the aisle berth -- and listening to the songs as I saw the sunrise over fields, farmers already starting to the till the land, and the day gradually begin. Even at Lucknow, staying in makeshift dorms at the City Montessari School, I would wake up early, get ready, plug it in and watch from a balcony while I saw the campus slowly come to life. The cleaning ladies, followed by the canteen staffed who opened up, the first trickle of students heading to campus from their dorms. The Walkman got stolen while I was there, but the music was imprinted for life.

I always had music on in my room through the teenage years. I’d wake up and put it on, sleep to music, blare it while bathing. I had cassette players that would pop shut as the side was over, and I’d never worry about it being ‘on’ the whole night. My car has always had music, just loud enough for me to not get bothered by traffic. I had albums for particular roads, and songs for particular turns. I had getting ready music, sad music, sleeping music, dancing music… playlists ready and waiting.

Then a change happened. I shifted all my music to laptops that were never loud enough, and I started getting worried about having them plugged all night. I’d worrying about draining them of battery, so wouldn’t leave them on when sleeping. I was driving less, and suddenly TV shows on laptops, even on in the background, replaced music. Walkmans were all but lost, and I hadn’t been an early ipod adopter. And even when I did, it remained for travel; flights and airports, taxis and infrequently, trains. Days of just listening to music in my room seemed a distant memory.

But still, a few days stand out. The train ride to Oxford, where I listened to Kings of Leon on repeat, the euphoria knowing I was going to listen to them live in a few days – the euphoria I still feel every time I hear the album. The day I walked around Sydney listening to Empire of the Sun on my ipod, or discovering Adele on a bus in Australia a year after everyone did. The night I stayed up all night in Goa, listening to the Stars and feeling sad. Or Kanye West to crack up at the lyrics and ignore Delhi airport stress! But, music floating around me went away. Electronic music all but disappeared from my life. Suddenly people were having intense indie music conversations on Facebook, and I didn’t even know any of the bands! I stopped driving as much, and the radio, often entertaining, only played chart-topping numbers. The good stuff seemed elusive.

I really had to make an effort to update myself, discovering new music. Days of those intense double deck cassette recordings, improbably, seemed so much more accessible. One day, divine intervention, I got into my car to find a USB plugged into the music system with all my music on it. I resolved to buy a music system I can go to sleep to. To separate my laptop from music. This particular convergence has been terrible for me, even if my reading, writing and TV watching is all the better for it.

And so, at 1am, I write this to Billy Idol on itunes. That’s something.