I was just reading the Terms of Service, and noticed something:

You must be at least 13 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 13 years of age. If you are under 13 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).

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.

I signed up for Stack Overflow when I was around 11 or 12 and I did provide my email address. Are you saying that my use of Stack Overflow was not legal?

I'm 13 now (so I'm in the clear), but that just seems a little harsh. Is that possibly related to the age limit for accepting a binding contract/agreement (although I thought that was 18 in the U.S.)?

Is there a way for those under the age of 13 to use the site legally?

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How do I use Stack Exchange if I'm underage?

Unfortunately, children under 13, or under 16 if located within the European Union, are not allowed to sign up for Stack Exchange accounts. If you are underage, and are trying to participate, first off, we're sorry. It's awesome that you're already trying to help others learn, and it's frustrating to us that (well-intentioned) legal issues make it challenging.

If you wish to use Stack Exchange, we'd encourage you to work with your parent or legal guardian, who can set up an account and use it with you, or establish other appropriate ways to use the site as a family.

Why is this restriction in place?

The U.S. Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requires that websites cannot collect personal information from children under the age of 13, including "full name, home address, email address, telephone number or any other information that would allow someone to identify or contact the child." This law applies to any business based in the United States, and applies to children from any country.

Additionally, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) prevents any website accessible to European Union citizens from collecting the same type of personal information from any person in the EU under the age of 16, or any lower age specified by an EU member nation (with a hard limit of 13).

Since Stack Exchange, during the registration process, allows users to enter their name, email address, and website URLs where other users might be able to contact the user, Stack Exchange is legally obligated to follow these laws.

If you want to change it without doing one of the above, you'll need to do one of the following:

  • Get Stack Exchange, Inc. to accept parental/guardian permission for individual accounts, since as long as the parent agrees, COPPA and GDPR allow websites to collect such information. (Note: It's really, really expensive/hard to comply with these rules, which is why almost no sites do it unless their target audience is mostly underage, like DisneyGo.)
  • Lobby the US Congress or European Parliament to change the law to allow your usage of the site.

I'm underage and I created an account. What will happen?

Your account will be deleted and all information you provided will be removed from our servers. You can create a new account once you are old enough, or follow the procedures above to have your parent/guardian create an account. While you will be able to participate in Stack Exchange again, unfortunately, we cannot reinstate your old account, so any reputation you gained on your old account will be gone.

Moderators will not be able to see some of the information that is ordinarily kept when deleting an account if the account is deleted for being underage.

But I'm not in the United States or European Union! Why do I still have to be at least 13?

Stack Exchange is based in the United States, and is therefore subject to U.S. law, including the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. Consequently, you must be 13 or older to create an account with us, even if there is no such provision in the laws of your country.

But the EU country I reside in has specified a lower age limit from 16! Why am I still subject to the age-16 restriction?

Stack Exchange has decided to limit registration for all people in any EU member nation to users 16 or older, in order to ensure it remains compliant with the laws in all EU member nations, and keeping track of each nation's age threshold in the Terms of Service would be prohibitively expensive, as they may change in the future.

I spotted a user who is underage. What should I do?

You don't have to do anything. Users and moderators are not legally responsible for underage users and are under no obligation to report them to us. If out of concern you would like to report it, send us a report via our contact form and we will take action.

  • 2
    If I read it correctly, it should be sufficient to let anyone over 13 set up an account and give you access to it. As long as the personal information of the younger person is not added to the account before reaching 13. – Dennis Jaheruddin Feb 14 '14 at 9:12
  • 1
    @Jaydles "edited to clarify" --> Remove information that may allow legal usage for underage youth. – Pollyanna Jul 31 '15 at 18:40
  • 31
    How does a 12 year old lobby US congress? – BlueRaja Sep 10 '15 at 0:39
  • 10
    @BlueRaja they are citizens and they have representatives. Just because they can't vote doesn't mean they can't send letters, start movements, and otherwise participate in representative democracy. – Pollyanna Sep 10 '15 at 2:01
  • 8
    It might be faster to just get older and not worry about it after you're 13... – Nelson Sep 11 '15 at 16:08
  • 16
    "How do I use Stack Exchange if I'm under 13 years old?" @Nelson "Grow up!" ;) – Pollyanna Sep 11 '15 at 17:25
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    Potential solve could be to let everyone sign up, BUT if the date entered is under 13, then reject the form, with saying, that please remove all personal information. or something like that (currently 14, recently moved to this account, since I realized, that everyone wants your name and I have been teached, to not provide it anywhere. It felt restricting and now I just moved all my internet life to this name. So I can feel free providing information, contacts to places I want.) Bad to admit, but let's say I have been here for over 5 years. It hasn't been my go to place, but as last resort. – Kristofer Vesi Jun 29 '17 at 0:33
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    i've never seen any EU law banning children under 16 to join internet communities, i request clarification. – CptEric May 3 '18 at 6:19
  • @CptEric: It's of course the GDPR. More precisely, the GDPR requiries that nations set an age limit between 13 and 16. Since there are some countries that have chosen 16, SE uses that for all EU countries. SE could make an exception for Belgium (which uses 13) but has chosen not to do so. – MSalters - reinstate Monica May 3 '18 at 14:51
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    @MSalters Art. 8 GDPR Conditions applicable to child's consent in relation to information society services, paragraph 1: "Where the child is below the age of 16 years, such processing shall be lawful only if and to the extent that consent is given or authorised by the holder of parental responsibility over the child." SE just need authorization from parents or tutors. – CptEric May 3 '18 at 14:56
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    Clarification question: May a 12 year old read the questions and answeres on the site? This answer just talks about making accounts, but the ToS says "You must be at least 13 years old to access or use the Network or Services". – isaacg May 6 '18 at 0:47
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    @CptEric: That authorization also needs to be at least somewhat verifiable. When you add the complication of figuring out who is "the holder of parental responsibility over the child," and proving that too, it's probably not worth it. – Kevin May 6 '18 at 2:15
  • @Kevin true, but it's not unfeasible. a hand-signed certificate stating someing in the line of "I, Robert surname surname, national ID number 40402020F, born on april's 1st, 1969,father of Kevin surname surname, verify my child is old enough to visit this site on his own, and is authorized to do so. (hand signature)(hand written date)"uploaded as PDF is enough legally in europe, thats how school trips, photography shoots or school visits from companies are managed atleast in spain and france. – CptEric May 7 '18 at 6:18
  • 1
    "The U.S. Children's Online Privacy Protection Act requires that websites cannot collect personal information from children under the age of 13" is understandable, but if collecting data is the only problem, why does the ToS explicitly disallow children signing up for an account and their "accessing or using the Services or the Network in any manner". The explicit distinction and a strict reading of the terms implies that a child clicking a link to Stack from Google is in violation of the ToS, as that is certainly a (read-only) access of the network. – jmbpiano May 25 '18 at 16:08
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    @peterh that's your opinion but so far any company fined or sued on the EU for their activities within the EU or against the rights of a EU citizien have been complied with by USA, UK and many non EEC countries. if US, EU (or whoever) wants to keep borders and trade open with the rest of the world, it should investigate ( if required ) any legal claim against companies from it and if it applies, and if it's not against international law, make law enforce. – CptEric Jun 6 '18 at 6:45

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