It is "good custom," unfortunately not taken for granted, to assume different approaches depending on whether you are dealing with an adult or a minor. A different processing is also implemented by most law systems that confer the ability to act, i.e. the ability to perform legal acts, to subjects who have reached a certain threshold of age that is conventionally set at 18. The same ratio of the real world has also been extended into the virtual world or, better yet, in the social universe.
Most social networks (Facebook, Musical.ly, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and, just today, even Twitter) or other services like WhatsApp and Google, include within their own policies, the minimum threshold of 13 years to register and activate an account. The reason behind the inclusion of this "access limit" comes from the fact that the main platforms we find on the internet are American, so they apply the limit set by US federal law: the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The COPPA prescribes that no legal entity (except public bodies) can collect data relating to children less than 13 years of age.
What we are going to analyze, therefore, the policies that the various owners of social platforms are adopting following the enforcement of the new European GDPR (General Data Protection Rule) towards "minors" between 13 to 16 in order to prevent them from improper use, access to harmful information, or granting "powers" to them that they might not be able to manage.
The first social networks and the relationship with minors
When it comes to social networks, you usually think of Facebook right away, right? In fact, before the big social network created by Mark Zuckerberg, launched on 4 February 2004, there were already internet platforms that provided network users with a virtual meeting point with the possibility of exchanging messages, instant chats, photos, and videos.
From SixDegrees by Weinrich (1997), to Friendster, and then Myspace, it was only a few years after that we got the "blue F" social network, around the year 2009, the first concerns regarding the protection of minors arose. For example, that of following or interacting within "red hot" pages or getting in touch with people who could exploit their naivety by manipulating the young boy or girl.
Although from the beginning the minimum age ratio was guaranteed by the various platforms, some countries began to regulate the matter by applying their own regulations. For example, in 2010 Spain increased the minimum entry threshold from thirteen years to fourteen years. Many other countries throughout the years followed the Spanish example. The reality is that there was never, at least until today, a universal discipline. The question, therefore, remained open to a cyclical debate, both an ethical and legal confrontation.
GDPR and “Social Privacy”
The concept of social networks has been modified over time. For example, the Italian Privacy Guarantor on the website protezionedeidatipersonali.it affirms that: "it must be remembered that the subscription to an online service such as, for example, Facebook, is not only, the subscription to the social network but a real contract with which the user allows a profiling of their behavior. The registration (...), therefore, is subject to the rules for the conclusion of contracts, for which the subject must be able to appreciate the nature and consequences of his consent. The subject that offers services directed at minors has the burden of ascertaining that the person concerned is able to provide valid consent."
With Article 8, the new regulation of privacy in Italy, it was established what could be defined as the "new digital consensus" that allows the provision of online services for boys or girls under 16. In the event that the subject appears to be a younger age, the processing of data will be considered lawful "only if and to the extent that such consent is given or authorized by the holder of parental responsibility "; parental consent that must be actively verified by the data controller "in any reasonable way."
Member States have the power to establish by national law "a lower age under 18 but in any case never going down under 13”. To date, the situation remains thus in the community area: limit of 14 (Italy, Austria, and Lithuania), or 15 (Czech Republic, Slovenia, France) or 13 (Spain, Sweden, England, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Finland, and Portugal).
What then were the instruments adopted by the various Social Networks to comply with the requirements of the new regulation?
After May 25, 2018 I hope you noticed, most importantly read, the multiple notifications from our email fliers that informed us of the various changes that the platforms have adopted or added in their policies of use and that have made transparent and easily accessible within the initial "Terms and conditions."
In them, even if reported differently, we can find all the information necessary to understand what happens in the profiles of children under 18. For example:
● There is no possibility of indexing the profile of the minor by search engines, which instead is an option for adults. This possibility is only unlocked at the age of 18, so the minor registered to Facebook, or other social networks, cannot in any way appear, for example, on Google’s search engine.
● Facial recognition cannot be activated.
● At any friend request received from adults, the child receives a pop-up that invites him to reflect before accepting requests from strangers.
● The default setting when a minor subscribes to Facebook is to share posts (photos, status, videos, etc.) "only with friends".
● The personal information of the child's profile, such as birthday, city, school, family members are not visible to those who do not belong to the "friendship" network.
Why then do we talk about "almost safeguarding"?
It's an old trick… I create a fake email, insert a fake date of birth, and it's done! As you can see, it’s easy to circumvent the security measures written toward children. What should you do then? Adopt your own system of "Parental Control." We should follow our children from the very first encounter with the social world, educate them on the right rules of use and slowly trust the unlocking of the various "powers" reminding them that "with great power comes great responsibility.”