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Meta lowers WhatsApp age limit in Europe, angering critics

Meta’s decision to lower the minimum age for using the WhatsApp messaging service has drawn criticism from children’s advocates in the UK and EU.

The move lowers the age from 16 to 13 in both regions; the bill comes into effect on April 11. UK-based Smartphone Free Childhood is the first to boycott Meta (the parent company of Facebook and Instagram). “WhatsApp puts shareholder profits first and children’s safety second,” Daisy Greenwell, the group’s co-founder, said in a statement.

Government officials also weighed in. Conservative MP Vicky Ford told Sky News lowering the age limit would be “very irresponsible”. Mark Bunting, director of online safety strategy at UK media regulator Ofcom, told BBC radio that the agency was already working on a code of conduct that social media companies would need to follow and could impose fines at any time once it has the power to levy fines.

“If they didn’t take those measures at the time and couldn’t demonstrate to us that they were taking alternative measures that were effective in keeping children safe, then we would be able to investigate,” Bunting said. “If we think changes are necessary, we have the authority Instruct them to make changes.”

Meta takes more steps; critics say they’re not enough

Meta defended the move in a statement, noting that all users can control who can add them to user groups and that messages from unknown numbers may be blocked and reported upon receipt. In February this year, WhatsApp launched a feature that blocks screenshots of someone’s profile picture to strengthen privacy and anti-harassment measures.

Earlier this week, Meta announced it would soon begin testing a way to blur explicit photos sent via Instagram direct messages, specifically those of minors, as part of a campaign of “sextortion” targeting minors components of the attack. In January, Meta announced it would implement new direct message controls on Facebook and Instagram to further protect children from messages from adult strangers.

Yet a week later, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave a frustrating hearing before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. During his testimony, Zuckerberg was targeted by parents of children who had been harmed, abused, exploited, and even killed as a result of encounters with others on social media platforms he controlled.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers harshly rebuked him and his company, with one telling Zuckerberg he had blood on his hands. Others asked Zuckerberg to give face and apologize to family members sitting in the gallery, which he did.

Featured image from Ideogram

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