WhatsApp raises minimum user age to 16 in Europe and announces data download tool

WhatsApp on Android phone

With new privacy laws due to roll out around Europe next month, WhatsApp has increase its minimum age from 13 to 16.

The Facebook-owned messaging tool has made the change in order to comply with GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) which comes into force on May 25. To continue to use WhatsApp, users must now confirm that they are at least 16 years old and agree to the privacy policy and terms of services of the newly-created WhatsApp Ireland Limited.

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WhatsApp has over 1.5 billion users, and those in 28 EU states will all need to indicate that they are 16 or over. It's not clear how -- or, indeed, if -- WhatsApp will verify, or attempt to verify, that this is correct. At the moment, identity verification is limited to simply checking whether a user has a working mobile number.

The approach taken by WhatsApp differs from that taken by Facebook itself. On the social networking site, children aged 13 and above are able to have an account, but in order to comply with GDPR, parents of children aged between 13 and 15 must give permission for data to be shared on the platform.

WhatsApp says that it is not asking for any new rights or permissions with its new privacy policy and terms of service for Europe:

We are not asking for new rights to collect personal information with this update. Our goal is simply to explain how we use and protect the limited information we have about you. There are a few things we want to highlight:

  • WhatsApp in Europe: WhatsApp has established an entity within the European Union to provide your services there and to meet the new high standards of transparency for how we protect the privacy of our users.
  • Data sharing: We are not currently sharing account information to improve your product and ads experience on Facebook. As we have said in the past, we want to work closer with other Facebook companies in the future and we will keep you updated as we develop our plans.
  • Staying safe on WhatsApp: When we receive reports of a bad actor sending unwanted messages - like SPAM or abusive content - on either WhatsApp or Facebook, we share information and can take action including blocking them across both services.

The age-related section of the updated terms of service now reads:

If you live in a country in the European Region, you must be at least 16 years old to use our Services or such greater age required in your country to register for or use our Services. If you live in any other country except those in the European Region, you must be at least 13 years old to use our Services or such greater age required in your country to register for or use our Services. In addition to being of the minimum required age to use our Services under applicable law, if you are not old enough to have authority to agree to our Terms in your country, your parent or guardian must agree to our Terms on your behalf.

The company also used the announcement to reveal that it is working to bring a data download tool to users in the coming weeks. The company says:

In the coming weeks, you will be able to see and download your WhatsApp account information and settings. This feature, Request Account Info, will be rolling out to all users around the world on the newest version of the app.

Image credit: Piotr Adamowicz / Shutterstock

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