The Strategist

Ask your mom first: Why the new EU initiative will seriously affect social networks

04/22/2016 - 16:19

Social networking seriously became aware about logistical and legal problems to be resolved before 2018. Then, the European Commission will introduce a directive obliging the social networks to obtain parental consent for the opening of accounts by minors.

Last week,  MEPs in Strasbourg adopted the final version of the pan-European data protection law. One of its provisions bans accounts of underage users on social networks without the prior consent of their parents or tutors at law. If any social network, whether Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram or any other, violates the law, it will be fined in the amount of 4% of global revenues.

The new rules seem to be a serious problem for social networks, largely because underaged users make up a significant part of their audience. According to eMerketer, 14% of Twitter and Facebook users are minors under the age of 16 years. In Britain, one in five children under the age of 11 years has an account in Facebook, which, incidentally, already makes the social network the violator of its own rules. Facebook’s rules state that the minimum age of the social network’s users is 13 years. The number of Facebook users in the age group 12 to 17 years in Britain, according to eMarketer, is already 80%.

Currently, social networks are using a passive way to limit access to its services by requiring the user to enter a new date of his birth. 

The new rules require new technological solutions since the experts admit that the age verification online is rather complicated and extremely unreliable process. In this case, proof of age is not everything: the authorities are going to see a clear and unambiguous consent of the parents.

"The new EU directive has the potential to become a terrible headache for companies," - said Phil Lee, a partner and an expert on the data protection at Fieldfisher. Facebook has 300 million users in Europe. The company’s sources say they are going to use it in their work on the creation of restrictive measures. For example, parents are often registered in Facebook. One of the company’s plans was to give permission to open an account for their children. Nevertheless, even this option is not completely successful. Establishing hard and not too graceful barriers, such as the requirement to provide credit card details to create your account, may be slightly more efficient. But even this requirement could be bypassed, and, above all, social networks will likely follow the path of least resistance and will be engaged in limited access of minors in social networks, rather than collecting permissions. 

European Parliament approved a bill allowing individual countries to lower the minimum limit from 16 to 13 years. Some countries, notably the United Kingdom, have already stated that this is what they are going to do. Others, such as France or Poland, say they will comply with the requirement of 16-year limit. This, experts say, will create another problem for companies operating in the market of social media - they will have to adapt their products to teenagers from the different countries of Europe, taking into account the various requirements of national law. 


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