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WhatsApp is raising its minimum age of use to 16 in Europe in preparation for GDPR

Spandan Sharma
25th Apr 2018
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WhatsApp, one of the world’s leading instant messaging platforms, is updating its terms of service and privacy policy in preparation for the upcoming implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) law in Europe. In the coming weeks, European WhatsApp users will have to accept the new ToS and privacy policy, including confirming that they’re at least 16 years old. Yep, that’s right – WhatsApp is raising its minimum age for European users from 13 to 16. How the platform will verify and enforce this new age limit is yet unclear, as it is well-known for collecting very little data about users or their usage of the app.

Image: Pxhere

WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption policies have often come up against regulatory hurdles, such as when the platform publicly refused to allow backdoor access for law enforcement officials to access conversations of fugitives and terrorism suspects. In the wake of the current Cambridge Analytica scandal engulfing parent company Facebook, the very same policy has, in fact, become a boon – in the wake of the crisis, WhatsApp clarified that its encryption policies meant that none of the user messages on the platform had been stored.

Facebook has a separate data policy for its services, including rival instant messaging service Messenger. In preparation for GDPR, Facebook stated that it will ask users between the ages of 13 and 15 to get parental permission for using the platform; if users are unable to procure this permission, they will see a more limited and generic version of the platform. It is again unclear how the social media giant will monitor whether permission has been granted or not. WhatsApp, for its part, has clarified that it is not seeking any new rights to access personal information of users to comply with GDPR rules.

In a blog post, the platform wrote, “Our goal is simply to explain how we use and protect the limited information we have about you.”

Despite its avowed support for user data protection, WhatsApp has come under regulatory scrutiny in Europe in recent weeks for alleged plans to share user information such as phone numbers with parent company Facebook to improve ad targeting and other services. WhatsApp dropped the idea in the face of regulatory pressure, but has said it still seeks a way to share information with 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 update to WhatsApp’s ToS and privacy policy is part of several new changes on the messaging service, including allowing users to download a report detailing the data it holds on them, such as the make and model of the device they used, their contacts and groups, and any blocked numbers. In its blog post, WhatsApp wrote, “This feature will be rolling out to all users around the world on the newest version of the app.” The new age restriction, however, will apply only to European users – WhatsApp’s minimum age of use will continue to be 13 in the rest of the world.

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