EU mulls age limit for social media use

A group of schoolgirls check their mobile phones.
A group of schoolgirls check their mobile phones.PHOTO: REUTERS

STRASBOURG, France (AFP) - The European Union was mulling the possibility on Tuesday of setting an age for parental consent, perhaps as high as 18, for users of social media such as Facebook, EU sources said.

Officials from the European Council of member states, the European Commission and the European Parliament were meeting in the eastern French city of Strasbourg to finalise details of a long-awaited data protection package but the talks were overshadowed by the age limit issue.

One of the sources said the issue was being blown out of proportion but media interest was intense given the massive use and growth in social networks - and concerns about their possible negative impact on the young.

"There were various proposals on the age of consent by member states - 13, 15, 16 and 18," the source said.

"There were suggestions member states could decide individually but that would make it difficult for industry which wanted a single figure, not several," said the source who asked not to be named.

"It appears there may be a compromise around 15," the source added.

German Green MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht, who has been in charge of guiding the issue through parliament, told AFP some wanted 13 as the age limit.

"Yes, there is a proposal on the age limit under which parents have to confirm a membership in social networks," Albrecht said.

"The parliament proposed 13 years but for the member states it is difficult. There are all kinds of age requirements on national level, some even 18," he added.

The EU personal data protection package is expected to comprise a single set of rules for all to abide by - the authorities, companies and individuals - as part of efforts to create what is known as the "single digital market."

Personal data protection was always a concern, especially its transfer overseas by giant US companies such as Google and Facebook, but became an even hotter topic after revelations of mass intelligence snooping by the US and other countries.

An agreement in the talks in Strasbourg is expected later Tuesday which will then be put the parliament's civil liberties committee on Thursday for an initial vote.

If it gets through the committee, it will have to come back to a full parliament vote in early 2016.