children do not enjoy the same protection depending on the country in which they live

A report from the Fairplay organization reveals that Instagram, WhatsApp and TikTok do not offer the same levels of privacy and security in all countries where their platforms are available.

ONE “design discrimination” on social networks. Fairplay, a non-profit organization committed to stopping child-targeted marketing, has just released a report stating that the level of privacy and security offered by Instagram, WhatsApp and TikTok varies from country to country. In other words, depending on the country in which they live, young users of these platforms are less protected than others, especially compared to young European users.

An unequal level of protection

The organization looked at standard private minutes for young users. Last year, Instagram announced this change for users under 16, but it is not being implemented in all countries. These minors’ accounts are e.g. private by default in the UK, Germany and elsewhere in Europe. On the other hand, in others like Brazil, Ethiopia or Australia, the user is encouraged to choose between a public account and a private account.

When Instagram announced the change, it said it would, among other things, prevent foreign adults from finding and contacting children and teens. Based on this argument, Fairplay indicates that young people should be protected universally, without users of the same age being vulnerable in some countries and not in others.

A lack of clarity on the minimum age for use

The organization also focused on minimum age requirements for using social media. In several countries, including France, registration on these platforms is presumed to be prohibited for persons under 13 years of age. However, this minimum age may be higher in some countries compared to local regulations and it is not always clear to users. According to TikTok’s policies in Indonesia, for example, the minimum age can be 13, 14 or 21 years old.

In fact, a section of the Privacy Policy specifies that the application is not intended for children under 13 years of age. This age is 14 according to the information in the technical mechanisms for challenging the accounts of minors, indicating that an account may be banned if TikTok believes that a person is under 14 years of age in Indonesia. Finally, another section of the privacy policy explains that the minimum age to use TikTok in the country is 21: “By accessing and / or using this platform, you represent that you are at least 21 years old or married or not under guardianship”. In its report, Fairplay explains that this lack of clarity was common to the three social networks.

A serious problem on TikTok

Although Fairplay has observed variations in policies and practices on Instagram, WhatsApp and TikTok, it is particularly concerned about the Chinese social network, where these differences are “a particularly serious problem”. Along with 38 advocacy organizations, the organization sent a letter to TikTok chief Shou Zi Chew urging him to address the design discrimination highlighted in the report. In it, she mentions the app’s privacy policy in Europe, according to which certain features are not available to provide an age-appropriate experience for users under 18 years of age.

However, this element is not included in the policies of non-European countries, while many young users of the social network are located outside the old continent. “TikTok’s largest markets are in the USA, Indonesia and Brazil. All children and young people deserve an age-appropriate experience, not just those in Europe. ”says Fairplay.

Finally, the organization explains why European users of social networks benefit from higher levels of protection and clarity of information. This is related to the rules for putting the best interests of the child first, which are found in several European countries such as the United Kingdom, France or the Netherlands. “Politicians and civil society actors around the world should seriously consider these rules to ensure that all young people receive the protection they deserve”ends Fairplay.

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