Saturday 22 October 2016

Teenagers under 16 face being banned from social media and email under EU laws

James Titcomb

Published 15/12/2015 | 08:57

Key Facebook executives in Ireland have made millions from the share spike
Key Facebook executives in Ireland have made millions from the share spike

Teenagers under the age of 16 could be banned from Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and email if they don't have parental permission, under last-minute changes to EU laws.

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The European Union is on the verge of pushing through new regulations that would raise the age of consent for websites to use personal data from 13 to 16.

Officials quitely amended proposed data protection laws last week to increase the age and put the EU out of step with rules in other parts of the world.

It would mean that millions of teenagers under 16 would be forced to seek permission from parents whenever signing up to a social media account, downloading an app or even using search engines.

The law, due to be negotiated between member states on Tuesday, would cause a major headache for social media companies. Almost all major social media services, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Google, currently have a minimum age of 13, in compliance with European and American laws.

Once laws are agreed, they are due to be voted on by the European parliament's civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee on Thursday before being ratified by the parliament itself in the New Year. Countries would then have two years to implement the law.

Failing to comply with the new legislation would mean fines of up to 4pc of a company's turnover - tens of millions of pounds for the biggest internet firms.

The proposed rule comes as part of a major overhaul of data protection laws designed to create a single set of rules for the European Union. It has been in the works for almost four years and will be debated by politicians on Tuesday before a vote on Thursday.

The Diana Award Youth Board, which aims to protect children from bullying, attacked the move.

"This higher age threshold may incentivise children between the ages of 13 and 15 to lie about their age. 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," it said.

"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.

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