I noticed this new paragraph in the Terms of Service:

If you are located within the European Union, you must be at least 16 years old to access or use the Network or Services, including without limitation to complete a Stack Overflow Account Registration. By accessing or using the Services or the Network in any manner, you represent and warrant that you are at least 16 years of age. If you are under 16 years old, you may not, under any circumstances or for any reason, access or use the Services or Network in any manner, and may not provide any personal information to or on the Services or Network (including, for example, a name, address, telephone number or email address).

Huh? Why was this new paragraph added? Why do users in the European Union have to be at least 16 years old to use Stack Exchange sites? Is this due to GDPR?

Also, as far as I'm aware, some countries have opted to reduce the age limit in their version of GDPR. So why is there a blanket restriction for the entire European Union, even for users in countries that opted to reduce the limit?

I'm looking for an answer that clearly explains why exactly this new paragraph was added, explained in a similar way to the FAQ on why users under 13 worldwide can't use SE, as this answer is intended to be edited into that FAQ and used as a global underage FAQ. For that, it needs to be in an easily readable form.

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    Given that in my country, the minimum age to start an apprenticeship for software developer (a three year contract with a company that ends with the person being a fully state certified developer) is 15 years that is weird. So Europeans are allowed to sign 3 year contracts to become developers, but they are not allowed to sign up for SO? What would be the legal base for that? – nvoigt Dec 11 '18 at 14:00
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    meta.stackexchange.com/a/310345 – Shog9 Dec 11 '18 at 15:09
  • @Shog9 Edited in the criteria for my answer. – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Dec 11 '18 at 15:11
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    I'm not going to answer. I left the link in case anyone in the EU is interested in how we handled this. This is not a frequently asked question at this point; why you're trying to clutter up the FAQ is beyond me. – Shog9 Dec 11 '18 at 15:16

This is due to the GDPR (EU General Data Protection Regulation). As we:

  1. Can't reliably discern users locations with the exception of being very likely to reside within the EU and
  2. Couldn't maintain procedures and logic to enforce age restrictions differently within the EU depending on per-member-country implementations
  3. Realize that the GDPR is very likely to change as it faces scrutiny in the course of cases surrounding it going forward, making it a moving legal target

... we require that users be at least 16, or in compliance with the oldest age requirement. We, along with many other companies are watching the EU courts closely and will consider revising our policies based on precedence any cases surrounding the protection laws might set - but that's entirely future speculation at this point.

In short, it's the only practical way for us to currently be compliant. It's unfortunate that this might result in restrictions that would seem onerous in areas where the age that a child can provide protected information without parental consent is below 16 in the EU, but as I noted, we have to land somewhere as we wait for all of that to settle, and setting the age to 16 assures that we're compliant while that happens (unless, of course, a member country decides to set it to 17, in which case our lawyer might flood our entire floor with tears).

While things like this cast a light on some of the downsides of the protections, we strongly embrace their intent, which is why we were one of the first to not only announce full compliance, but also be quite vocal in our support of the new regulations.

This is one part that I hope they relax a little in an effort to make things totally consistent (13 being the age in the US has worked out to be quite reasonable, but that's just my own opinion as a parent), but we can only do what the law says, within our means to do so.

And, well, that means treating the regulations in the strictest case consistently in our compliance, because that keeps us from making mistakes.

  • Can you please summarize this in a way that is similar to the section in the FAQ on why the 13-year-old restriction exists, so that can be edited into that FAQ and it can become a worldwide underage FAQ? – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Dec 11 '18 at 15:26
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    @SonictheInclusiveHedgehog It's stated in our ToS, we feel that's sufficient for now. As it's a moving target, I'd rather have a single source of truth on the matter which means not having to find lots of long-forgotten meta posts if we have to change the ToS again :) – Tim Post Dec 11 '18 at 15:28
  • @TimPost so the faq should only link to the ToS saying "look there for more details"? – Shadow The Vaccinated Wizard Dec 11 '18 at 15:41
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    @ShadowWizard For GDPR-related stuff, yeah, because it's very likely to change many times over the next 24 months. We're actively anticipating those regulations moving. We'd be happy if they didn't, but it's way too soon to document 'em in a bunch of places. We have the main announcement we made about the GDPR, we have the ToS and we have parts of the help center that discuss it - I think that's sufficient. – Tim Post Dec 11 '18 at 16:24
  • Maybe you want to extend your answer related to "profile pictures" (such as this one: meta.stackexchange.com/users/170813) ... – Pierre.Vriens Dec 11 '18 at 18:34

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