The European Union is considering a new law that would make it illegal for any child under the age of 16 to use messaging services, such as Facebook and Snapchat, without the express consent of their parents. If this law does go into effect, it would essentially raise the age of digital consent in Europe from 13 to 16. Many individuals have already spoken out against this controversial proposal.
The age of digital consent is the age at which people are lawfully permitted to access most websites. In the United States, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) provides additional online protection to children under the age of 13. There is also a similar policy put into place in Europe. The existence of COPPA is the main reason why Facebook does not allow users to join until they reach the age of 13.
Now, the European Parliament is considering a change that would make 16 the minimum age for accessing such websites. However, the change is largely being opposed by most social media companies and many child protection experts.
The proposed law reads, “The processing of personal data of a child below the age of 16 years shall only be lawful if and to the extent that such consent is given or authorized by the holder of parental responsibility over the child."
Basically, any online company that wants to have any sort of association with people under the age of 16 would have to receive permission from their parent or guardian first. However, online safety experts believe that this law would actually make children more vulnerable on the internet.
Many experts believe that enforcing such a limit would prevent young people from obtaining educational and social opportunities. Additionally, it would likely encourage young people to lie about their age on the internet. In order to gain access to websites, early teens would likely say that they are older than they really are. Obviously, this would most likely lead to some highly concerning consequences.
Others are saying that the law would be pointless. A large number of children under the age of 13 are already on Facebook and other social media websites, despite this being a violation of their policies. Just because the law changes doesn’t mean that it will be easy to enforce. It’s not like changing the age limit would suddenly remove young people from the websites. Instead, they would just lie about their ages.
Currently, there is an intense lobbying effort taking place to try and convince European lawmakers to scrap this proposed law. The European Parliament is expected to vote on this matter on Thursday.