A digital ‘age of consent’
Sir, – “We need to talk about the Irish ‘digital age of consent’” (Opinion & Analysis, July 12th) discusses the age at which children are mature enough to understand their digital rights. The Government could raise the age of digital consent to 21 and people would still be making uninformed choices when it comes to the internet.
When we agree to the privacy policies on sites such as Facebook, we hand over a vast array of information, and many people do not even realise it. They gain access to the GPS in our phone, the websites that we browse and other personal information, which they then sell on to third-party companies that create targeted ads to show up on our news feed.
An age of consent is arbitrary (young people will always find a way to access the sites they want to), and what we need is for the Government to create policies which force companies to explain clearly and simply exactly what it is we sign away when we click “I agree”, and to educate children in schools about the risks involved in giving out our personal information online. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – While any public discourse around young people’s use of online technology is to be welcomed, we feel that a focus of discussion around an intangible “digital age of consent” is sadly a way for stakeholders in this space to avoid facing up to the reality that young people use social media and other digital platforms regardless of acceptable age rules. Arbitrary decisions about a default age for young people to be able to “consent” to their use of an online service without parental involvement fails to acknowledge the fact that even though unreliable “age checks” have been in place for many years on social media platforms, countless children under 13 use these services, and in some cases are supported in doing so by their parents.
We need to bear in mind that the original discussions around digital age of consent within the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation did not draw from safeguarding or child development concerns, but from the protection of children from advertising and data collection. Regardless, in any scenario where the digital age of consent is set to 13 or over, many children will likely register using false ages, and will not be afforded the most basic of protections for child users offered by service providers. This hidden community could potentially be exposed to age-inappropriate advertising, unwanted sexual contact online and excessive collection and exploitation of their data.
On many occasions in our work we have been told by primary school staff that they do not need to talk about the safe use of technology because “children shouldn’t be using such platforms”. Policymakers make demands for service providers to “do more” without even entertaining the requirement for a detailed curriculum that addresses risk associated with online interaction and communication in an age-appropriate manner from early years upwards. We would much rather move the discussion on from stakeholders hiding behind legislation, unimplementable in technology, and prohibitive rules that provide excuses to not engage in a more detailed discussion around the rights of children to receive an education that is relevant and timely to their development. Children are telling us they want this education and we are failing to deliver it. – Yours, etc,
Dr MAGGIE BRENNAN,
Chief Scientific Adviser,
Prof ANDY PHIPPEN,
and Special Adviser,
Upper Georges Street,