How WhatsApp age hike in Europe could impact SA

World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck.
World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck.

Cape Town - It is unlikely that WhatsApp will take a similar step to what it did in Europe by raising the minimum age for users in South Africa to 16 years of age, local technology analyst Arthur Goldstuck told Fin24 on Thursday.

AFP reported on Wednesday that WhatsApp has raised its minimum age for users in the European Union to 16 years. The minimum age for users outside the EU remains 13 years.

Goldstuck explained that WhatsApp has always set a minimum age of 13 or older for users.

The new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), however, includes the fact that only someone of 16 years or older can give consent for their data to be shared.

The eurozone is planning to implement this new online privacy legislation on May 25.

If a company like WhatsApp would then like to use the platform for marketing, it would run into a problem in Europe (if the minimum age remains 13 years of age).

So, it prefers to take a blunt approach by slapping an age restriction on Europe as it is not willing to guarantee or prevent the use of children's data, Goldstuck explained.

WhatsApp did not say how it plans to enforce the changes brought about by the GDPR.

Goldstuck does not foresee a similar age increase happening for WhatsApp users in South Africa. He said the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI) has not yet come into effect in the country, but it in any event has no age restrictions, although its intentions are similar to those of the GDPR.

"If WhatsApp is compliant with the GDPR, then it will also be compliant with POPI, but age is not a factor regarding POPI," said Goldstuck.

"It is, therefore, unlikely that WhatsApp will take similar steps to increase the age restriction in SA. POPI is more about the protection of private information as opposed to that of minors."

He added that WhatsApp cannot really police an age restriction effectively, since people often lie about their age when they join the platform.

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