Dylan Collins: Why is Ireland going for lowest age for digital consent?

9 Apr 2018

Image: BT Image/Shutterstock

Is 13 too low for the age of digital consent? CEO of kidtech company SuperAwesome rows in on debate.

In the wake of high-profile convictions over predatory behaviour online as well as the ongoing fallout from the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, a leading entrepreneur has warned that Ireland may be setting the age of digital consent too low.

Dylan Collins is the CEO of SuperAwesome, one of the biggest kidtech companies in the world, powering kid-safe digital engagement for hundreds of companies and millions of kids.

‘Why is Ireland picking the lowest age possible when it comes to the protection of children’s data online?’

The company specifically focuses on privacy-based products for the audience of children in line with global data privacy laws for kids in the US, EU and China.

SuperAwesome was reportedly recently valued at more than $100m and derives global revenues of $50m through kid-safe advertising and social engagement with brands that include Activision, Hasbro, Mattel, Cartoon Network, Spin Master, Nintendo, Bandai, WB and Moose Toys, to name a few.

Collins, considered one of Europe’s most experienced digital media entrepreneurs and investors, sold Demonware, a company he co-founded, to Activision for $17m in 2007. He also co-founded venture capital company Hoxton Ventures.

Tipped for a potential stock exchange listing, SuperAwesome recently raised $21m in a funding round led by Mayfair Equity Partners.

Collins was last year named Internet Hero at the Eir Golden Spider Awards.

Debate rages over age of digital consent in Ireland

SuperAwesome Dylan Collins named Internet Hero for second time

Internet supremo Dylan Collins. Image: Eir

In recent weeks, the director of the Cyberpsychology Research Network, Dr Mary Aiken, warned that the age of 13 for digital consent selected by the Irish Government is too low and leaves youngsters open to malicious and manipulative psychological targeting.

She pointed to research that indicated adolescents experienced greater unhappiness through their teenage years if they went online too young.

Collins believes the Irish Government needs to reconsider setting the digital age of consent as low as 13 when Germany is setting the age limit at 16, France at 15 and China, where the digital age of consent is a new concept, is opting for 14.

Do you personally believe Ireland is setting the age limit too low, and is the Government misguided in its approach?

The objective here is to ensure that data is not being captured on kids and young people. We have seen from the likes of the Cambridge Analytica scandal just how much this data can be, and is, misused.

GDPR-K (the kids part of GDPR) allows for each country to set an age between 13 and 16. Germany and Italy have picked 16. France has picked 15.

Why is Ireland picking the lowest age possible when it comes to the protection of children’s data online?

It’s a very simple analysis: as a parent, would you prefer to have more protection or less protection for your children when they go online?

Hardly a week goes by where we don’t hear about bad people targeting kids via social media apps, and everything from suicides to grooming. As someone who subscribes to safe marketing standards, how big is the problem we are facing?

The challenge is that the internet was fundamentally built for adults but is now being used by an overwhelming number of kids. There are almost 10 times as many kids online as there were seven years ago.

SuperAwesome has defined the ‘kidtech’ sector: technology that is specifically built to ensure that kids’ privacy is protected wherever they go online. It’s used by hundreds of the biggest kids companies in the world to ensure that kids have access to a ‘zero data’ environment. So, we are at the cutting edge of this conversation.

What do you believe needs to be done so kids can still have their childhoods and, if they want to use digital, can do so safely?

Firstly, it’s great to see governments and the EU taking the lead on data privacy law for kids. Even China, not commonly known for the concept of digital privacy, has passed laws specifically to protect kids online (interestingly, they also picked an older age than Ireland is suggesting).

Secondly, there are now hundreds of kids companies building products and services with dedicated kidtech, committing to data privacy for children everywhere. Many examples, but the likes of Mattel, Lego, Spin Master and Disney spring to mind. They deserve your support.

Finally, parents – it’s really hard to be a parent within a digital home. Please be mindful that when your children are using adult platforms like Facebook and YouTube, huge amounts of their personal information may be getting captured and shared with other companies.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years