I must admit that I wasn’t aware until recently that there existed a notion called the “Digital Age of Consent“. Apparently the European Union will in 2018 enact legislation, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), to determine the age at which providers of online goods and services (eg. gaming platforms and social media apps and websites) offered to children should seek the consent or authorisation of the child’s parent or guardian.

Article 8 of the GDPR provides that, in the case of information society services offered directly to a child, parental consent is required where personal information of  a child under 16 years of age is collected and shared with other service providers. It allows, however, for Member States to adopt a lower age threshold provided that the age is not below 13 years. The providers of such services are required to make reasonable efforts to verify that parental consent is given in each case.

Neither was I aware until recently that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, has already held a period of public consultation on the subject of the Digital Age of Consent, the closing date of which was in December. Based on the consultation, the Minister will bring forward recommendations to Cabinet on the age of Digital Consent in Ireland ahead of the EU legislation.

Currently, most social media websites and apps require children to be 13 years old to avail of their services, but in reality we all know that children of a much lower age are accessing these services with little difficulty. They are faking their age to gain access to apps and sites that their peers are already on. We know this because many of us will have had “follow” requests from our pupils whom we know to be younger than 13.

This new EU legislation will possibly put some more pressure on service providers to make a greater effort to ensure that children are of an appropriate age to use their service.

In a recent article on The Journal website, parent and internet safety campaigner Avril Ronan remarked:

The responsibility of safeguarding our children online begins at home. We as parents and guardians are the first to place a device in the hands of our children so we have to educate ourselves to enable us to support, guide and protect our children online.

With Safer Internet Day just around the corner (February 7th), perhaps now would be an opportune time for teachers to talk again with pupils about staying safe online and perhaps finding out what their opinions are on the proposed Digital Age of Consent.