WhatsApp's Raising its Minimum Age to 16 in the EU

By Tom Pritchard on at

Over the years there's been a lot of talk about kids with smartphones, and on social media. Always Tweetapping and Snapbooking whenever they feel like it. Most services have a policy of not letting people sign up if they're under 13, but WhatsApp is taking things a step further ahead of the GDPR introduction next month. That means nobody in the EU will be allowed to sign up for WhatsApp unless they're 16 or over.

According to Ofcom around a third of 12-15-year olds in  the UK use WhatsApp on a regular basis, and at the moment the Facebook-owned app doesn't ask users to verify their age. That'll change over the next few weeks, though it's unclear how the company will actually enforce the limit. Relying on Facebook or Instagram accounts is likely out of the question, seeing as how the ICO has ruled WhatsApp and Facebook aren't allowed to share user's data.

According to WhatsApp this change will help it achieve "new high standards of transparency", though the move is likely a response to the new rules include special protections relating to the collection children's personal data. Unsurprisingly the age threshold mentioned in the regulations is 16, which means WhatsApp is likely covering its back in preparation for when the GDPR goes live. WhatsAppp will also be following in the footsteps of Facebook and Instagram, letting users download all the data the company has collected - including phone model, network, and blocked numbers.

But like its parent company Facebook doesn't seem to be adopting GDPR-level privacy regulations outside the EU, WhatsApp seemingly has no plans to change the minimum age threshold elsewhere. That age is 13, which is in line with the US's Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule (Coppa). 13 is also the absolute minimum threshold outlined in the GDPR, meaning member states can lower the age at which data collection is permitted up to that point.

Whether other social media companies will follow WhatsApp's example is unclear, though Facebook has confirmed anyone between the ages of 13 and 15 will need to nominate a parent or guardian to consent to data collection. If that doesn't happen then those users won't see a personalised version of Facebook.

Kids these days have it so good. I wish I could opt out of Facebook personalisation, but I'm in my mid-20s.[BBC News]