Allowing children use social media can come back to haunt them in adulthood
How old should children be to have their own social network accounts? This deceptively simple question has sharply divided European governments this week and highlighted the issue of children's privacy rights online.
The question came up as part of the reform of European data protection law. Early proposals were for an age limit of 13 - in line with the United States. But at the last minute, some member states proposed raising it to 16 - prompting a storm of criticism that children under 16 would be "banned from Facebook".
The end result was a clumsy compromise. Under the new Data Protection Regulation agreed last Tuesday, the general age limit is set at 16 but member states can reduce this to 13 if they wish. It is a safe bet that Ireland will opt for the lower age limit, if only to facilitate Facebook and the other social network firms headquartered in Dublin. However, even those countries that keep the age of 16 won't be "banning" younger children from social networks - they can still sign up for accounts with their parents' permission.