Lawmakers from the European Union have settled a debate over the digital age of consent with a compromise: each country can decide for itself. This means that EU member-states will be able to set their own limits between 13 and 16 years for how old children have to be before they can sign up for social media services like Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat without parental permission.
The current digital age of consent in the EU is 13, the same as the US, but last minute additions to proposed data regulations suggested raising this to 16. Tech firms reportedly lobbied hard against the change, with the Financial Times reporting that a coalition of companies including Google and Facebook accusing those involved of rushing the amendment. Many tech firms rely on fast growth to justify their business models of looking for profit only after establishing a user base, and extra barriers to sign up teens would harm this. Other critics say children already lie about how old they are online, so raising the age of consent only distracts from more meaningful protection and education.
Tech firms will face fines of up to 4 percent of global sales if they fail to comply
Overall, the new regulations give more power to consumers in the EU over what happens to their data. In order to keep companies in line, the EU can now impose fines of up to 4 percent of their global sales for failing to meet the new stricter laws. It also makes firms more directly responsible for their failures. Now, even if a company outsources its data handling to a third party, it's still responsible for making sure rules are followed. The regulations will also force companies to alert national authorities within 72 hours in the event of a data breach.
"The regulation returns control over citizens’ personal data to citizens," said the European Parliament's lead MEP on the regulation, Jan Philipp Albrecht, in a press statement. "Companies will not be allowed to divulge information that they have received for a particular purpose without the permission of the person concerned. Consumers will have to give their explicit consent to the use of their data."
The new regulations are scheduled for official confirmation by the European Parliament this Thursday (usually a formality), with EU member states given two years to either adapt existing laws or pass new ones to meet the required standards.