Teenagers would be prevented from setting up social media and email accounts unless they have parental permission under European Union proposals.
The regulations would make it illegal for companies such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to handle data from anyone under the age of 16 without the consent of parents. Currently most social networks require parental permisson for children aged under 13 in order to comply with US and EU legislation.
The change to proposed data protection laws was made last week by EU officials and the move could mean millions of teenagers under 16 being forced to ask their parents before signing up to social media or even downloading an app to their mobile phones. The use of search engines could also be affected by the plans.
The law, which will be negotiated between member states today, could cause problems for social media and technology companies. Failing to comply with the new laws would mean fines of up to 4 per cent of a company’s turnover, meaning potential penalties of millions of pounds for the biggest firms.
Other companies, such as supermarkets, face similar fines for breaking the new privacy regulations.
US tech giants launched a lobbying effort against the proposal yesterday with a coalition including Google, Facebook and Twitter accusing officials of failing to consult child-safety groups.
Alexander Whalen, senior policy manager of Digital Europe, a group which represents the tech industry in Brussels, branded the changes as “last minute” and “unreasonable”. Critics say that it will encourage teenagers to lie about their age.
After today’s negotiations, the law will be voted on by the European parliament’s civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee on Thursday. If the vote is in favour, the law will be ratified in the new year, giving countries two years to implement it.
The proposals, which have been in the making for four years, are part of a major overhaul of data protection laws designed to create a single set of rules across the EU.