Tara McCamley reports on the new limits being put in place on the popular app and where they fit into Ireland’s attempts to change data limits within the country
Whatsapp recently announced that it is raising its minimum age limit for users in Europe to 16 years old in order to fall in line with new EU data restriction laws which will come into play next month.
In the next few weeks the app will ask European users to confirm if they are over the age of 16 when agreeing to the new terms and conditions set forward by the app. Though currently it is uncertain how the company plans on enforcing this law or confirming if the stated age of users is correct or not.
The decision to raise the minimum age limit for the app – from 13 years old to 16 – within Europe is interesting coming off the heels of Ireland’s attempts to lower the digital age of consent to 13.
The minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has defended the government’s decision to attempt to lower the age despite the increase in the European standard for digital consent and recommendations by the new EU laws to raise the minimum age limit.
Flanagan stated at the joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs that the government held the view that the lowered age limit would be in accordance with protections such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the expert advice that was sought out before the motion was put forward.
When asking young people their thoughts on the age increase the vast majority praised Whatsapps decision. ‘Young people are easily targeted online and this makes them more vulnerable,’ said 18 year old student Emma Murphy who is firmly against the government’s desicion to attempt to lower the digital age of consent.
‘A 13 year old is not educated enough to use these sites, 16 year olds are still children but they are older and better able to deal with the repercussions of what they post and putting themselves out there online’ she said. ‘There’s social problems letting kids online so young as well, all you ever hear from adults is how hard it is to pry them away from screens and how it’s causing kids to be less able to communicate in the real world so Ireland’s attempts to make the age 13 seems counterproductive.’
“This law is taking away a child’s right to be a child if the government allows them online at this age, everyone should follow Whatsapps lead and higher ages instead of lowering them”
‘I was 16 when i joined Facebook, I’m not on any other social media and i mostly use it for Messenger and I think that was the correct age to let me online. This law is taking away a child’s right to be a child if the government allows them online at this age, everyone should follow Whatsapp’s lead and higher ages instead of lowering them.’
Ana Dunne, a final year law student in Maynooth, is also firmly against the government’s plans to lower the digital age of consent in Ireland: ‘I’d have a huge disagreement with it as it would throw out wanting to create a harmonious legal field, as much as it would potentially endanger minors to be held to a fully consenting standard online as if they were 18.’
‘Ireland lowering the digital age to 13 would immediately conflict with the age of consent, 16, and the legal age of consent, 18, right off the bat. Considering how wide and vast the digital sphere is, to open it up to people as young as 13 would be a mistake as it would be allowing them to consent to matters that otherwise legally they would be unable to.’
Whatsapp was bought by Facebook in 2014, and with the recent public attention the Cambridge Analytica scandal has brought to the company’s data usage policies, all companies under its umbrella are being held under a more intense microscope.
Even Facebook itself is set to raise its user age policy asking users under the age of 16 to provide sufficient proof that their guardians have allowed them to share information across the platform and without providing it they will only be able to access a limited version of the site and app.
Along with the higher user age limit Whatsapp also announced they are allowing users to download a report detailing the data it holds on them, such as the make and model of the device they used, their contacts and groups and any blocked numbers. As well as re-releasing information on how users can protect themselves online.