European lawmakers approved new regulation on Tuesday that would, among many other things, block anyone under 16 years old from online services that collect user data.
That’s right. Europe is on its way to making it illegal for the tastemakers of modern technology to use services like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat without parental consent.
Let’s consider for a moment what this will do to the current and future development of the kinds of services first popularized by teenagers:
- For starters, it would have business implications. Not only could this move cut into Facebook and Snapchat’s total user bases, but it would remove some of the most valuable users around. It’s not clear how many European teens under the age of 16 are using social sites, or how many would disappear from those sites under the new restrictions. But it is clear that teenagers are a popular demographic for advertisers looking to shell out marketing dollars. Having a teen-friendly audience can be great for advertising — just look at the early interest Snapchat generated from brands when it started taking ad dollars earlier this year.
- Teens are also the Internet’s tastemakers. Want to know what the next hot app or product is? Follow the teens! Yes, teenagers change their minds faster than Taylor Swift changes boyfriends. (If you don’t understand this reference, your teen child will.) But they’re also the group that helps investors and entrepreneurs and advertisers understand what’s cool. It’s hard to imagine a world where Snapchat and Instagram would have taken off the way they have without teens in the mix.
- Opponents of the regulation are arguing that the move might have serious social impacts, too. Services like Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat have, for many teens, become their primary form of communication. It’s the most popular way to check in with friends and share what’s happening in their lives. It can also serve as a safety line.
Here’s how Janice Richardson, a former programmer for the Insafe safe Internet network, put it:
Sadly, we know that some parents do not always act in their child’s best interests. The Internet can represent a lifeline for children to get the help they need when they are suffering from abuse, living with relatives who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, or seeking confidential LGBT support services, to name a few.
The positive news for Facebook and others is that this isn’t set in stone. It seems likely that each of the 28 European Union member states will be allowed to set their own age limit between 13 and 16 years old, and this process could take a few years to implement. So some countries may not experience any change at all. But it’s also likely that others will abandon the 13-year-old age requirement that these companies are accustomed to and that is used in the U.S.
Facebook and Twitter declined to comment, and Snapchat didn’t reply to our email. You can bet, though, that these companies aren’t thrilled with what’s going down in Europe. There are still a lot of details to be sorted out, and we should know more on Thursday, but social media user bases are suddenly at stake.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.