LONDON — It could get a lot harder for kids and young teens to access the Internet in Europe over the next few years. Top political leaders and lawmakers across the European Union are in the midst of finalizing updated regulations to protect the personal data of people across the region. An agreement could come as early as Tuesday and the new rules would go into effect in 28 European countries in about two years.
While intentions are good, one particular proposal that tries to protect children is drawing harsh criticism.
The proposal calls for all kids under the age of 16 to get parental consent before they use online services, including social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter. This could mean a wide range of websites would require visitors to verify their age before they can enter, much like beer websites. Kids under 16 would need their parents to tick an online box to give them permission to browse the sites, or else they wouldn’t be allowed on.
Even Google’s popular search engine could require users to enter their birth dates under the new rules, said Nigel Parker, a London-based partner at the law firm Allen & Overy.
“Lots of people are shocked by this because it’s completely contrary to the way the world works these days,” said Parker. “Although it’s designed to protect the children … some people are worried that it will have the opposite effect.”
Critics are specifically concerned that it could block kids from seeking online advice, help and information, and it would add a layer of bureaucracy for teachers who want to use online resources in their classrooms. Opponents warn that the rules could encourage young teens to simply lie about their age when they’re online.
Three different European bodies — the European Parliament, European Commission and European Council — have been negotiating the details of the new data protection rules since 2012. Current data rules are severely out of date since they were approved back in 1995.
The European proposal to protect children was originally meant to emulate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act from the U.S., which was designed to protect kids under the age of 13. The original European proposals focused on this younger group, but leaked documents show the age was recently raised from 13 to 16.
Lawmakers are also still finalizing the fines and punishments that companies and organizations could face if they do not comply with the new data protection rules. According to EU sources, those flouting the law could face fines worth as much as 5% of their global sales.