A new change to EU data protection laws could make it illegal for anyone under the age of 16 to have accounts on social media sites, access emails, download apps, and possibly even use search engines without their parents’ consent.
The move could see tech-savvy teens banned from sites and apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. Teenagers under 16 make up a large portion of these companies’ users, and several US tech groups are lobbying against the proposals.
The proposed amendments would make it illegal for services such as social media sites to collect information on users under 16 without their parents consent. It’s unclear how the services would confirm that consent, and many are worried it will result in young teens lying about their age while important online support services are restricted.
Currently, social networks and many other sites have a minimum age of 13, in compliance with European and American laws. Should the new laws be agreed – which are due to be voted on by an EU committee this Thursday - then countries will have two years to implement them. Failure to do so could mean fines of up to four percent of an organization’s annual turnover, and that could mean companies like Facebook having to pay out millions of dollars.
Several groups have voiced their opposition to the proposals, including The Diana Award Youth Board, which aims to protect children from bullying.
"Children aged 13 and above have long accessed online services; an artificial and sudden change to this threshold will likely result in many children between the ages of 13 and 15 lying about their ages in order to continue accessing online services - rather than asking their parents to consent," TDAYB said in an open letter. "This development would make it far more difficult for online services to offer children age-appropriate guidance and tools to ensure a safe and privacy-protective experience online.”
Join us & sign the petition to stop law which says <16's can't access internet without parent permission. Sign here:https://t.co/fi1EYjabP6— Anti-Bullying Pro (@AntiBullyingPro) December 14, 2015
The ICT Coalition for Children Online also spoke out against the proposals: "The consequences of the proposed change are very significant for European society," the group said. "Online services have provided children with a safe place to explore and learn and indeed, according to renown researcher Dr David Finkelhor, appear to have had a significantly positive impact on many aspects of safety and behavior.”