Millions of teens lose access to WhatsApp, thanks to GDPR

29 May 2018

| Author: Jay Jay

Millions of teenagers below the age of sixteen will no longer be able to use WhatsApp thanks to the now-in-force GDPR that required companies to obtain parental or guardian consent in order to process data of children below sixteen years of age.

In order to comply with GDPR, WhatsApp has now increased the minimum age of subscribers from 13 to 16 and is now requiring users to verify their age to continue using the messaging service. What this means is that hundreds of thousands of children between the age of 13 and 16 will not be able to use WhatsApp any longer unless their parents or guardians give their consent.

Last year, in light of the fact that many children below the age of 16 were online and were accessing social media and other websites, a section of the public demanded that the minimum age for consent be reduced from 16 to 13.

While this could help to bring in a majority of the internet-savvy teenage population under the GDPR’s ambit, it did not address the fact that children in the age group of 13 to 15 are not aware of how their data is collected, how it is used and the importance of privacy.

At the same time, there were concerns that if the minimum age for consent was kept at 16, there was a possibility that a lot of children would flout the rules and lie about their age on the internet, thereby derailing the purpose of the regulation.

Considering that no such changes were made, companies like WhatsApp that process data of millions of people need to ensure they are taking all the necessary steps in order to comply with GDPR. In a blog post published last month, WhatsApp described a number of steps it was going to take to comply with the European Union’s new privacy laws.

“WhatsApp has established an entity within the European Union to provide your services there and to meet the new high standards of transparency for how we protect the privacy of our users.

“We are not currently sharing account information to improve your product and ads experience on Facebook. As we have said in the past, we want to work closer with other Facebook companies in the future and we will keep you updated as we develop our plans,” the company said.

The ongoing investigation by the EU

The Facebook-owned social media giant will also need to be careful about the customer data it processes as it is being investigated by the European Union’s data protection watchdog, the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, about its data-sharing plans with Facebook.

Last year, the Data Protection Working Party states that the information presented by WhatsApp to its users on data sharing with Facebook was ‘seriously deficient as a means to inform their consent‘. In a letter addressed to Jan Koum, chief executive of WhatsApp, the watchdog stated that notices given to users did not make it clear that their personal data would be shared with Facebook.

In fact, all that WhatsApp did was share a new privacy policy via a pop-up notification, informing users that the policy had been updated to ‘reflect new features’. At the same time, the checkbox for users to accept the new policy was pre-ticked. The working party found this approach ‘misleading’.

It added that WhatsApp users were not offered “sufficiently granular user controls” to opt out of the new privacy policy as well, thereby resulting in a breach of the EU’s regulations on user consent.

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