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EU seeks to protect teen data

News, 16 December 2015

BRUSSELS: US tech companies have protested at proposed alterations to EU data protection rules which would make it illegal for businesses to process data from users under the age of 16 without the consent of their parents.

"It is unreasonable to think that a child of 15 needs parental consent in every situation," said Alexander Whalen, senior policy manager of Digital Europe, a group which represents the tech industry in Brussels. "These are last-minute changes."

Observers added that there appeared to have been little or no public consultation on this new policy.

The Financial Times reported a senior executive at one US tech company claiming that millions of children would need their parent's permission to use internet services – "that includes email accounts, social media platforms and downloading apps".

The ICT Coalition for Children Online, a group focused upon helping young people use the internet in a safe and responsible way, argued that raising the age limit from the original proposal of 13 – which is in line with other jurisdictions – to 16 would only encourage children to lie about their age.

While the tech industry has obvious financial reasons to object – the growth of many social media businesses relies heavily on younger users and the advertisers they attract – those closer to the affected consumer group are equally aghast.

MTV's Taylor Trudon, a "twenty-something teenager", called the move "entirely tone-deaf and embarrassingly out of touch".

"This policy isn't protecting teens," she said. "It's silencing their voices and, for many, is directly depriving them from support systems and life-saving resources."

The CEO of ConnectSafely.org, a US non-profit internet safety organisation, echoed those sentiments as he highlighted the role of social media in helping suicidal younger teens and in educating them about the wider world.

"To deny youth access to social media is to ban them from the important conversations that will shape their and our world," said Larry Magid.

Data sourced from Financial Times, MTV, Huffington Post; additional content by Warc staff