GDPR from a youth perspective

  • Awareness
  • 31/03/2016
  • Auke Pals (Youth representative)
Auke Pals, 19, is a part-time high school student, a member of the Dutch Digital Youth Council, and a youth representative of European Digital Youth. Here, he provides his view on whether the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will help to create a better internet for young people.
Last December, the European Parliament agreed on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The day before the agreement was made, I attended a (unrelated) conference with mostly policymakers and internet/IT experts. In preparation for my attendance, I was asked to come up with a trend, in the field of policymaking, for the coming years. As I knew that the vote on the GDPR would take place the following day, I made this the focus of my presentation, mentioning the fact that I strongly disagree with at least one part of the regulation. In this article, I discuss that point further.
For a long while now, politicians have been concerned with updating the previous data protection legislation. Of course, when making changes there might always be a conflict of interests: as my economics teacher once explained to me, when changing anything - irrespectively of whether it is regarded to be a positive or negative change - there will always be a decrease in trust.
This is especially true in this case as, during last November/December – i.e. in the period right before the vote took place – last-minute changes were made. As a result, teenagers under the age 16 will need parental consent to use social media: hence if their parents do not give this, the young person is denied access. There is also an exception that Member States can themselves change this age to anywhere between 13 and 16, as best fits their local circumstances. The exception makes it rather difficult for the companies that supply these services to draw a straight line. This rather conflicts with other spearheads of the regulation which I support: namely to fully equalise data protection across the whole of Europe, without the need for individual countries to implement all the single topics in the regulation itself.
The regulation is, of course, way broader than this specific topic. However, I still want to zoom in on the regulation to see if it contributes to a better internet for kids. Current teenagers have been growing up with the internet - they can't imagine a world without it; however, their parents have not. That's the conflict many teenagers will come across, along with regular claims such as "current teenagers have become so extremely asocial".
On this point, I slightly agree and disagree with the statements made. In my view, physical social skills are slightly declining such as having a formal conversation or making a phone call. Experience has taught us that teenagers are experiencing more difficulties with these tasks than, say, gathering small amounts of information or having informal conversations.
On the other hand, these teenagers are always connected with their devices meaning they can contact and be contacted at every single moment. If we all realise that current teenagers can reach every single person on earth using social media, the fact that most teenagers are looking at their phones means that they are communicating, even though this is not in a physical way as most (older) persons are used to. That doesn't sound really that asocial, right?
At the age of seven, I used to play with friends at the playground. My parents and I made an agreement... when the lampposts turned on, I had to come inside. I understood the arguments my parents gave, so that all worked out well. As I got older, my parents gave me more freedom and, after a while, I could decide for myself whether I continued playing or went inside.
When I went to high school at age 12, I became more self confident and started exploring the country with my friends by train. I also wanted to keep in contact with my friends from primary school and the ones I met while exploring. I signed up to Facebook and I already used MSN at that time. The fun part was, my parents knew I travelled through the country but didn't have a clue that I used social media that much... in fact, they didn't really know what social media meant! For me, it didn't really matter because my parents are not that conservative, but for many of my friends it didn't work out so well: they they were not allowed to use it or not allowed to sign up even. The problem with these sanctions was that the parents concerned didn't have a clue what social media was being used for.
Nowadays, I can't imagine a world without social media: we're invited to parties, kept informed of things happening at school through class WhatsApp groups, and so on. My high school even gave me my own email address to keep me informed of the business going on at school. Now, with the GDPR, teenagers younger than 16 years have to 'ask' their parents if they are allowed to use social media. We are talking here about the age group that will soon be leaving high school, having fledgling and, for some, even serious relationships. They aren't really children anymore.
In this age group, everyone wants to be invited to a party, but without using social media you don't exist in the virtual world. If a teenager is already using social media, they'll continue to use it regardless of how it is regulated. Additionally, social media platforms will not make signing up more difficult than necessary. In the simplest of cases, they will ask for an age. If the teenager is too young, it will ask for the parent to confirm the account using a straightforward method, such as via an email confirmation link. Anyone can get around this, for example by entering a wrong age or by clicking on the email confirmation link themselves.
Therefore, I don't think this measure contributes to a better internet for kids. What it does do is prevent kids from being independent and self confident. It might also prevent teenagers from having a good physical social live because of their lack of quick interaction and the possibility to make last-minute appointments through social media. Those young people not allowed to use it will lose track of their friends and connections at some point…
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Better Internet for Kids Portal, European Schoolnet, the European Commission or any related organisations or parties.
About the author of this article:
Auke Pals, 19, is a part-time high school student, a member of the Dutch Digital Youth Council, and a youth representative of European Digital Youth.
Auke has always had a keen interest in computers, the internet, and new and upcoming trends. Since his childhood he has been eager to learn, always striving to learn new things: computers and the internet gave him the opportunity to fulfil his needs. He has always admired the opportunities the internet has to offer: connecting people, connecting businesses, and making communication smart and quick.
At the age of 12, Auke started helping those less computer literate than himself with small problems. This is something he has continued doing, ranging from helping the elderly and younger people, to smaller local companies, and now bigger companies exploring new functions for services. At the moment he is advising one of the biggest companies in The Netherlands, designing systems to increase the overall productivity of processes.

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