Term of Service

Age of Consent

The minimum age at which kids can legally be held to a Terms of Service agreement might be raised from 13 to 16 in Europe. Currently, companies have to ask parents’ permission for children under the 13.

My Take

This is an interesting policy question. Businesses want the age of consent to be as low as possible because that expands their market (on the assumption that children are more likely to accept the agreement than their parents are). This explains why Google, Facebook and Twitter immediately came out against the change.

But these companies write their agreements to be at the level of a law school graduate, definitely not a 13 or a 16 year old. It seems disingenuous for them to argue for the lower age.

It would be interesting to use this as leverage to get companies to write more user friendly agreements. We can allow younger kids to accept an agreement if the company writes it at a level that kids can understand (both technically and the implications thereof). This might have better long term benefits for protecting all of us than a stricter age of consent.

So for example a 13 year old can accept Google’s agreement if it is written at a 13-year-old level. If they write it at a 16 year old level, then only 16 year olds could accept it.

But would companies do it? Would they sacrifice the ability to con the rest of us out of our personal information for the opportunity to market to 13-16 year olds? I wonder. I would love to be a fly on the wall of that boardroom conversation.

Your Turn

Or perhaps they could have different agreements, each written at different levels and served to different users. Lots of possibilities here. What do you think? Should the government (Europe or otherwise) raise the age? Should we align the age of consent with the writing level of the agreement?

Please share.

Image Credit: Wesley Fryer

2 thoughts on “Age of Consent”

  1. Perhaps even more insidious is the new normal. Its completely normal for kids to sign agreements that are 40 pages long, agreements that no-one reads and understands. Its even normal for adults to do it, but we at least (hopefully) have some misgivings about it.

    For kids the checkbox (agree to terms of service) is just an annoying step. The standard of saying “click this big button (and ignore the tiny print that says you agree to 40 pages of contract stuff)” is what worries me. I’ve got a kid, and he’s going to agree to terms of service that are more than 100 pages long all the time. Seems like a recipe for disaster. I say demand terms of service that take under 2 minutes to completely read and understand, or the TOS is not defend-able in court. Why are we accepting this standard of unreasonably long and tiresome agreements?

    1. Absolutely! Of course adults are guilty of this as well. I have observed (usability testing and with my colleagues) that they just click the box without reading as just another annoying step.

      The contract is to abstruse to read and understand. There is also no alternative. If all companies have these same agreements, what else can we do? Not use anything? Give up all social media apps? All news readers? If we want the benefits, we have to sign one anyway – we are a captive audience. So accepting one is no worse than accepting another. Who cares about the details? (tongue in cheek of course, but with a lot of truth behind it).

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