Three quarters (79%) of parents of teenagers believe children should be at least 14-years-old before they make independent decisions about the websites they use and can consent to the use of their personal data by online services, according to a new study from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
With increasing concerns about the harvesting of personal data and with the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) in May 2018, the researchers asked parents of children aged between 0 to 17 years-old what age they think their child should be able to make their own decisions about the websites and apps they use.
GDPR legislation sets the age of consent at 16, but the UK’s Data Protection Bill has lowered this to 13 – an age which parents of younger children (aged 0 to 9) think is reasonable.
However, parents of teenagers aged 13 to 17 – those who are directly affected by the new legislation – disagree and think the government’s proposed age of consent of 13 is too young.
Seventy-nine per cent of this group argue their child should be at least 14 years-old before making these decisions – with the ideal age of consent averaging 15. More digitally skilled parents such as those able to create their own websites or videos and parents who have had negative online experiences also favoured an older age of consent.
The researchers indicate if the age of consent is set too high, younger teenagers will have to rely on parental consent which could limit their participation and learning opportunities online. But if the age is set too young, this raises questions about the knowledge younger teenagers possess about the commercial online environment and how well-informed their decisions will be.
Commenting, Professor Sonia Livingstone from the Department of Media and Communications at LSE, says: “We thought it high time that parents were asked whether and when their children are ready to decide about internet services that collect, track and monetise their personal data. It’s striking that parents of teens think they still need parental oversight. If the Data Protection Bill determines that parental consent is not needed for 13 year olds, it will be crucial to find other ways to make sure teens are not exploited online.”
The researchers suggest that if the government want the age of 13 to meet with parents’ approval, they need to demonstrate the lower age of consent will bring children more benefits than harm. This will mean paying attention to the public reaction to the use of children’s data and private information in the current wider debates.