Since 2012, European regulators have been working on the European General Data Protection Regulation (DPR). Proposed drafts have required companies who offer “information society services directly to a child” from processing the personal data of a child under the age of 13 unless consent is given by a parent. This means if a child wants to use an online service like Club Penguin, the parent would need to give consent before the child is able to use the service. Formalizing this requirement in the EU would harmonize the age of consent for children across the market as well as strengthen existing privacy protections for citizens under the age of 13.
A last minute change to the proposal has raised the age of consent to 16. This change was made without soliciting input from stakeholders, including privacy-focused organizations like Know What’s Inside or child safety organizations. A change of this magnitude should have been given sufficient time to be discussed in public, to allow child safety experts and other stakeholders to provide their input based on years of experience studying best practices pertaining to children’s use of online services.
For well over a decade, people over the age of 13 have been able to access online services for schoolwork, news, or to express opinions on the issues of the day. This proposal would radically change these freedoms for EU teens. While young people in other parts of the world will be fully participating online, EU children would need to make their parents jump through hoops to give consent for the majority of websites and apps to which they currently have access.
There’s no doubt that this change would dramatically reduce young people’s use of informative websites and apps. Existing parental consent mechanisms are 20th century technology, at best. Imagine a child asking her parent for permission each time she needed to use a search engine or an informational website to do a school research project. Even the most involved parents would find this onerous, and it would represent a significant burden on working parents.
What’s worse, the shift in the age of consent may further encourage children to misrepresent their ages, often without their parents’ knowledge. This will be a missed opportunity for parents and children have an open conversation about good digital citizenship.
At Know What’s Inside, a community of over 500 companies that agree to a set of best practices on privacy and transparency for children’s apps, our members work hard to provide information at-a-glance about what is inside technology used by kids. Our members pride themselves on protecting children’s privacy but also providing children opportunities for the latest, most innovative products. Regulations that substantially disrupt the existing norms in the marketplace will cause more harm than intended. We urge regulators to reconsider the amendments made without input from stakeholders, to listen to the outcry of experienced online child safety organizations, and to allow young Europeans, just like their peers around the world, to access the online tools necessary to become good global citizens.
By Sara Kloek
Originally posted on Medium