Beware of encouraging pupils to use social networks and messengers

Many a teacher is trying to find out the best tool for communicating with pupils. Nowadays when most children are given a mobile phone in lower primary, the logical choice would be social networks and various messengers, be it Facebook, WhatsApp or Viber.

When recommending such communication or creating a common group for the entire class, prudence should be exercised. Starting in May 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) regulation, is applied to these applications as well, and thus their use by persons under 16 or 13 (respectively, in accordance with national legislation), is conditional upon parental consent. Similar problem may arise with video consultations via Skype.

Most applications reflected GDPR in their user conditions as well, which contain provisions about minimum age and rather vaguely refer to national legislation. For example WhatsApp in its English Terms of Service and Privacy Policy states: „If you live in a country in the European Region, you must be at least 16 years old to use our Services or such greater age required in your country to register for or use our Services.“ Considering that the Czech Republic has not passed a relevant national law to GDPR, the limit for use social networks is 16 years old.

The rules for verifying age are rather easy to bypass (e.g. by intentionally providing a false date of birth or by simply checking the box “Over 16“), which however constitutes breaking the contract terms as well as the valid legislation. It cannot be excluded that in the future this breaking of law could help the social networks operators to, even partly, exculpate from their responsibility, e.g. in case of cyberbullying.

At least from the GDPR point of view one of the possible solutions can be to get a signed parental consent, which is outlined in the Viber´s terms of use: „In the EEA, certain default privacy settings will be applied to users under the age of 16 and can only be changed if the legal guardian instructs so in writing.“ Such a parental consent may be given to a school at the beginning of a school year. It is also appropriate to have it approved in the School Regulation. To communicate with the pupil, it is also possible to use one of the e-learning systems, e.g. Moodle.

Unfortunately GDPR made conditions to use social networks at schools even more complicated. It, however, should not be a reason to resign to their use in teaching and especially in educational activity, when a teacher or a school prevention specialist walks the pupils e.g. though the security settings and warns them of the possible risks of individual applications.


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