- Messaging platform WhatsApp is raising the minimum age for accounts in the European Union from 13 to 16 as parent company Facebook changes its policies to comply with the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules that take effect on May 25, according to the company's website.
- Meanwhile, Facebook won't have the same minimum age policy, as it plans to ask people ages 13-15 to nominate a parent or guardian who can grant permission for them to share information on the social network. Underage users won't be given access to a "fully personalized" version of the social platform, per Reuters.
Ahead of GDPR, there is a clear trend toward greater control over how and when children access digital platforms, most likely a reaction to the concern about data privacy issues by parents and regulators. It doesn't help that a number of recent reports are also raising the alarm about the potential dangers of how much time children spend with digital devices. Besides WhatsApp's change, Amazon's new kid-focused Echo Dot has a number of safeguards in place to protect children's data.
It's unclear how exactly WhatsApp will ensure users are at least 16 when it rolls outs its new terms of service ahead of the GDPR deadline on May 25. Still, the news points to how platforms and brands may be impacted by the new EU regulations, which sets that age at which a child's personal data can be accessed without parental consent at 16 as opposed to 13, which is the U.S. limit under the current Children's Online Privacy Protection rule. This means that brands collecting data may need to expand their current consent obligations to include children up to age 16.
Parent company Facebook has had past run-ins with EU regulators over data-sharing between its social platform and WhatsApp, which was acquired for $19 billion in 2014. The European Commission last year fined Facebook $122 million for misleading regulators during a review of the WhatsApp takeover. While Facebook has very deep pockets, it likely won't want to face additional fines or other punitive measures for violating the stricter GDPR.
Regulators and lawmakers are scrutinizing Facebook after the company last month disclosed that the personal information of millions of users wrongly ended up in the hands of political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. Facebook has since taken a variety of measures to be more transparent about the data the company collects on its users, giving them more control over how their personal information is shared with advertisers and third-party apps. Facebook plans to introduce new measures to improve ad transparency in the U.K. by June, and require political ads to be clearly labeled, the company told a parliamentary committee.
So far, the scrutiny doesn't appear to be hurting Facebook's financial performance or that from WhatsApp. The company yesterday reported revenue surged nearly 50% to $11.97 billion.