The instant messaging service WhatsApp recently announced that it would be setting an age restriction for use of the platform in the European Union, following an update of privacy laws that require greater transparency on how people’s information is used online.
These privacy laws, known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), has prompted WhatsApp to raise the minimum age of its users in the EU to 16, up from a required minimum 13 years of age. The new laws, set to be in effect from 25 May 2018, will only be applicable in the European Union, with users elsewhere still required to be at least 13 years old to use the service.
POPI, the GDPR and WhatsApp
South Africa’s own Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI), which closely follows the guidelines set up in Europe, is due to come into effect in 2018, and the recent announcement has set off discussions about whether the changes to WhatsApp’s terms and conditions would also affect South African users. Whilst there isn’t any confirmation as to whether this would indeed be the case, there are differing opinions about the topic.
In a recent interview with Fin24, Arthur Goldstuck, technology analyst and MD of World Wide Worx, said that he did not believe that the minimum age for WhatsApp users would also be raised in South Africa, citing that POPI doesn’t have any age restrictions written into it, despite its similarities with the intentions of the GDPR. Goldstuck added that it would be difficult for WhatsApp to verify the ages of its users, as people often lie about their age when signing up for the platform.
How young is too young?
In the past few years, WhatsApp and other social media platforms have become embroiled in controversy, with numerous stories about minors sharing explicit content making headlines. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in the UK recently polled children and young people about their impression of WhatsApp, and at least 2% of minors who reviewed the app thought it was unsafe.
They mentioned group chats that are used to bully people, the addictive nature of the app, and the fact that messages can’t be reported as their main concerns. Despite their criticism, the children said that they like WhatsApp because it is an easy way to message friends and family, it is a free messaging service when used over Wi-Fi, it allows you to block people, and its group chats allow you to chat to many people at once.
What do you think: should WhatsApp’s minimum age also be raised to 16 in South Africa? Tell us why in the comments below.