Comments please

Let’s assume the age of consent to sex in your country is 16. That is the case in Belgium, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain and the UK. Because of the GDPR your national legislature decides to stick with the default age of 16 as the basis of membership of a social networking site.

If, on a social networking site, someone struck up a “friendship” with a person from one of those countries would that mean they could plausibly argue they cannot be guilty of “grooming” because they had reasonable grounds for believing the person they were talking to was of age?

Other countries have other ages but I guess in principle the same point could apply. If the age of consent to sex and the age of consent to data are the same, or the age of consent to sex is lower than the age of consent to data bad guys are handed a pathway they will surely seek to exploit. No?

Most of the EU Member States that don’t have 16 as their age of consent to sex have 14 or 15 but Ireland, Cyprus and Malta have an age of consent to sex that is greater than 16 so I guess whatever they decide on the GDPR this is not going to be an issue for them, or at any rate not in the same way as it will be elsewhere.

There again since we do not anticipate social networking sites will voluntarily introduce age verification it will remain the case that tens of millions of under age individuals are going to be on them so maybe  an expectation will arise that the sites make clear that, whatever the stated minimum age of membership is in country X, no one is entitled to believe they are speaking to someone who actually meets that requirement.

Farce piled on farce.

Here’s another angle. Suppose a great many Member States do stick with the default of 16 and your country opts for 13.  Will that act as a beacon attracting people who want to contact younger individuals? Although there could be an up side to that the down side sounds a bit spooky. Just what are the implications of having a spread of ages? What if the age rules do, in fact, start to be enforced differently between jurisdictions or companies?

Out of this  I suppose one argument in favour of countries adopting 13 as the minimum age for data is in no case is it aligned with the age of consent to sex so would-be groomers would be blocked in that regard. It is also an argument for having as many countries as possible opting for 13 so we are all in the same boat and no single jurisdiction becomes a target for anyone with a preference for younger people. Hey ho. We will all have to remain on guard in broadly the same way.

I am not saying I am coming out in favour of 13 as the preferred single minimum age for every country to adopt but if we get the high level enquiry I have previously called for it would definitely be something they should consider.

About John Carr

John Carr is a member of the Executive Board of the UK Council on Child Internet Safety, the British Government's principal advisory body for online safety and security for children and young people. In the summer of 2013 he was appointed as an adviser to Bangkok-based ECPAT International. Amongst other things John is or has been a Senior Expert Adviser to the United Nations, ITU, the European Union, a member of the Executive Board of the European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online, Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John has advised many of the world's largest internet companies on online child safety. In June, 2012, John was a appointed a Visiting Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. More: http://johncarrcv.blogspot.com
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