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WhatsApp plans to ban under-16s

children on a computer

WhatsApp plans to ban under-16s

Facebook-owned messaging platform WhatsApp has recently revealed radical plans to stop users under the age of 16 from accessing the app as of next month.

The company is raising the minimum age of joining the app to 16, an increase of three years. Furthermore, this change is only for users within the European Union because of the changes to rules regarding data protection and the introduction of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which comes into effect on May 25 and changes the way business can use data they have on their customers.

One of the new rules is that those under the age of 16 will not be allowed to join any online service without the consent of their parents and guardians.

Currently, WhatsApp has over 1.3 billion users on a monthly basis all over the world. A report by OfCom last year showed that 83% of UK children aged 12-15 owned a smartphone, with the stat being 39% for British youngsters in the 8-11 age category. Of those in the 12-15 category, 74% had set up an account on some form of social media (23% of 8-11s, even though they are not permitted to due to age restrictions). This would suggest that there are a lot of British kids who use WhatsApp already.

As the above statistics would suggest, this is something of an ambitious mission for WhatsApp, as it could prove tricky to make sure the younger generation does not get on, or back on, to the service. The company’s methodology behind this plan will either see it be a massive success or a tremendous failure. WhatsApp has not yet said how it plans to maintain its new age control.

If it is to set up a rigorous signup process that demands proof of age, this could put off people from joining the site altogether, plus what will it do to those who lie about their age to gain access, in a similar way to what they appear to do already?

GDPR remains a subject that many companies in the European Union are unsure about. The legislation will state that fine will either be up to €20m (£17.5m) or 4% of a company’s annual turnover. So for huge companies with many users, such as WhatsApp and parent company Facebook, these fines could be astronomical. Therefore, with the financial implications looming large over these companies, they will need to take GDPR seriously and think of ways to ensure they are compliant when it comes to these new age limits.

Alan Littler

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