Should your kids continue using WhatsApp?

For about 12 years, WhatsApp has offered a free service to billions of users across the world. Moving away from SMSs, the chat service has given adults and young ones a convenient way to talk to loved ones.

Now, its new owner Mark Zuckerberg and his team are ready to generate money from the service, and that comes at a privacy cost for users.

The question then remains: Is the platform safe for children?

Age restrictions

In European countries, the age restriction for WhatsApp is 16 years. This is according to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). South Africa is not regulated by this act and has an age restriction of 13.

Now more than ever is the time for parents to oblige to this regulation. Children younger than this age are not equipped with the mental skills to process the content they see. Children’s self-esteem only develops at 13, and therefore could be susceptible to bullying and other factors.

Targeted marketing

The overall objective of WhatsApp’s new policy is to increases targeted marketing. WhatsApp may send you marketing material about Facebook companies.

WhatsApp’s new policy says “we may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate, provide, improve, understand, customise, support, and market our services and their offerings.”

This means that your child may receive marketing material tailored to them. This tailoring will happen because WhatsApp will have access, not to encrypted chats, but to the information on the child’s device. This includes phone numbers, contacts, and other data.

The new policy gives WhatsApp access to your 13-year-old’s device.

WhatsApp alternatives

Growing conversations have been taking place regarding migrating to apps such as Telegram or Signal. Even the new richest man in the world, Elon Musk, has urged people to use Signal instead of WhatsApp.

Signal’s age restriction is 13 years and Telegram’s age restriction is 16.

Telegram’s privacy policy states that they can access your “IP address, devices and Telegram apps you’ve used, history of username changes, etc.”. Signal only collects the phone number and contact information and no other data.

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