WhatsApp has announced that it will be raising the minimum age for its app to 16 in Europe ahead of the GDPR privacy laws that are coming into force at the end of May.
Previously, the app’s minimum age was 13, which is the same for Facebook and Instagram. The new law however demands that if an app does collect any personal data on a person then they be at least 16 years old or have the permission of a parent or guardian.
Rather than offer that second option, WhatsApp’s new Terms of Service suggest a blanket rule which is that you either have to be 16 or you will be banned.
While it’s not exactly how WhatsApp plans to enforce this, the company did respond to HuffPost UK with the following statement:
“WhatsApp will raise the minimum age to use our service from 13 to 16 across the European Union in order to comply with GDPR. Because WhatsApp collects limited categories of information, we had to make a tradeoff between collecting more personal information or keeping it simple and raise the minimum age. Users in the European Union will be asked to confirm whether they are at least 16 years old when presented with our updated terms of service. WhatsApp does not ask for your date of birth and that will not change with the new update.”
Matthew Kershaw, director of content at Iris, an advertising agency and management consultancy, says WhatsApp’s new policy is “just a gesture”, and is likely to be unenforceable.
“The odd thing about it is that of the Facebook family of platforms - Instagram, Facebook and Whatsapp - Whatsapp is the one you’d be least likely to worry about your children accessing,” he said.
Kershaw believes that if the age limits are being instigated over concerns of exposure to inappropriate content or advertising, it is other networking sites that should be raising the minimum age.
“WhatsApp (has) zero advertising or exposure to other people outside your contacts. More generally, Whats app is not an advertising platform. So this move makes little difference to the marketing community,” he added.
Facebook’s approach to under 16s in Europe is slightly different. Rather than banning them outright, the social media platform will require anyone between the ages of 13-15 to get permission from a parent or guardian. If they can’t get permission, then see a restricted and non-personalised version of the site.
These changes are all taking place because a new set of European privacy laws called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will be coming into force on 25 May 2018.
GDPR will be the biggest overhaul of data protection laws in the world and has been designed to create a unified set of standards that all companies adhere to.
The laws will govern how a company can collect data from you, ensure that any data it stores is securely protected, and will give you the right to access that data at any point.
While this means huge changes for organisations, the changes for consumers will mostly centre around access to your online data.
In the example of apps like Instagram and WhatsApp, both companies have announced tools which will allow you to download all the data that they have collected on you.
As more organisations race to become compliant with the new laws, you can expect to be getting a lot more messages from companies either asking for your permission to collect data about you, or offering new tools to let you download that data.