GDPR Influences WhatsApp Age Limit Increase
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WhatsApp increases minimum age limit to 16
WhatsApp is a social media platform used by over 1 billion people worldwide each day which allows users to send encrypted messages between mobile devices.
The messages are inaccessible to anybody other than the sender and the recipient.
On Wednesday, the popular social media app announced that they were increasing the minimum age limit of their users to 16 for users based in Europe as a result of the impending GDPR regulations.
However, other social media sites have taken different approaches, avoiding the need for increased age limits.
In this post, we debate whether WhatsApp have made the right decision.
How does that relate to GDPR?
GDPR means that companies have new restrictions on how they can process personal data.
Minors under the age of 16 cannot give consent for their personal data to be used.
This causes a serious problems.
Platforms face losing users or must find a way to establish consent some other way.Although an increased age limit is not enforced by law, WhatsApp have decided to act cautiously to avoid being caught out.
Other social media platforms including Twitter and Facebook have taken different approaches to their GDPR strategy.
As a result, WhatsApp are the only social media platform to restrict membership to over 16s so far.
Are WhatsApp Doing The Right Thing?
On paper, WhatsApp are taking a sensible approach. By banning all under 16s from using the app there is no room for ambiguity.
Minors under the age of 16 cannot legally give consent. Consequently, they are no longer permitted to use the platform.
By banning them entirely it leaves no room for problems further down the line. WhatsApp don’t have to think about how to get parental consent for their younger users.
Nor do they have to worry about any accidental contact with inappropriate content. Their approach seems straight forward and common sense.
However, in ‘doing the right thing’, WhatsApp causes another issue. Younger user base may ignore the change in rules, using the platform anyway.
Ticking a box does not take much effort and people may lie about their age when filling in the sign up form. Nobody would know.
When buying an alcoholic drink, you are asked for ID, similarly, a cinema is likely to check the ID of younger viewers for age restricted films.
However, no physical check can be made with online users.
Charles Arthur likened an online age verification to taking somebody’s word for it at the bar and serving them a drink based on their word, without checking their ID.
Not everybody is honest, especially when they know they aren’t going to be caught.
What are Other Social Platforms Doing?
Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, to name just three, are taking a different approach.
They are not placing a blanket ban on all users under the age of 16. This means that they remain a highly accessible and appealing platform for youngsters wanting a social media hit.
By allowing over 13s to sign up, other social media platforms have to seek consent from the minor’s parent before they are granted access.
Similar to the issue WhatsApp have with users faking their age, it is unclear how other social platforms will verify that consent has been given by the parent or guardian.
How can you prove that a parent has ticked the box and not just a mischievous 13 year old wanting to be as cool as the rest of their classmates?
Social media sites rely on collecting their user data so that they can present targeted ads to them.
Without ads, social media platforms would have no way to fund their growth and development. It is difficult to reach many of your followers if you don’t pay to boost your posts and updates.
Should younger users input fake data, they may be targeted with inappropriate content based on their age.
The benefit of banning under 16s entirely is that WhatsApp can wash their hands of responsibility should this happen. By allowing access via parental consent, the
What Does This Mean For WhatsApp?
WhatsApp should no longer be accessible to under 16s. The social media platform’s true demographics should change. This relies on people being honest.
Will it have a detrimental impact on their platform?
We don’t think so.
The app is most popular amongst adults aged between 18 and 29 according to a study of US users.
Younger users may turn to other, less restricted social media sites in some cases. Although the platform may see a small drop in users due to the new age limit, they are unlikely to suffer in the long term.
Last week, we debated whether Wetherspoon’s decision to quit social media. Although the exact reason for the shutdown are unclear, one of the reasons which has been muted in the press is the enforcement of GDPR in May 2018.
The WhatsApp age limit increase is another example of a large brand changing the way they operate. It is clear that GDPR is altering the digital landscape.
Let us know what you think of the WhatsApp age limit increase in the comments!