After the rollout of GDPR, Twitter started locking out accounts en masse if it suspected users were under the age of 13. Now, more than a month later, many affected users — who say they’re now old enough to use the service — remain locked out of their accounts, and it’s not clear when the company will restore access to their accounts.
The last public update from the company was on June 12, when Twitter Support explained in a series of Tweets that “we recently made product changes tied to new privacy laws (GDPR) and became aware of accounts that were set up by people when they were younger than 13 … our rules don’t allow anyone under 13 to Tweet or create a Twitter account so we’re working on a technical solution to delete those Tweets, and allow the impacted account holders to continue on Twitter. In the meantime, we’re reaching out to people impacted with options to unlock their account and continue to use Twitter. Instructions from us will come during the coming week.”
When contacted by VentureBeat for an update, a Twitter spokesperson said that it had no other public comments to share at this time.
There have been questions and concerns about accounts being locked because of age restrictions. We wanted to let you know what happened here, and what we’re doing about it. 1/6
— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) June 12, 2018
Twitter users that remain locked out of their accounts, many of whom have taken to Reddit to voice their frustrations, complain that updates from the company have been vague, and say that there’s no easy process to get their accounts back. A thread called “Twitter Age Lock Megathread” has garnered 338 comments in the last month.
Redditors last reported receiving email updates from Twitter the week of June 23, when the company said it was working on options for users and would be in touch with another update next week. However, they say no update has arrived.
While GDPR has affected social media platforms in different ways, Twitter seems to have had the most public struggles with verifying users’ ages. That’s because affected users say Twitter actually prompted them to add a birthday to their profile. Users who signed up for the service when they were underage added a birthday that was different than the one they had used to register, so Twitter, now having a piece of evidence indicating that they might not be the age they initially claimed to be, decided to lock them out.
VentureBeat spoke with four Twitter users last month who say they got locked out this way, all of whom say they are now well above the age of consent. Of those four, two are still locked out, while one told VentureBeat said that he got a message from Twitter that his account is unlocked, but he’s still unable to Tweet.
In other cases, Twitter locked out accounts for changing their birthdays, even if it didn’t make sense to suspect the account was created by someone underage. Rob Ford, the founder of FWA a U.K.-based company, told VentureBeat that FWA’s Twitter account, said that the company account had been locked after changing the birthday associated with the accounts. Ford said that he was able to get FWA’s account unlocked after three days.
Twitter has always required its users to be at least 13 years old to use the service, but Nader Henein, an analyst for Gartner, told VentureBeat in a phone interview that what GDPR has forced — with its hefty fines of up to 4 percent of a company’s global annual turnover or 20 million Euros, whichever is greater — is for companies to continually perform risk assessments that will help them determine whether it’s financially worth it for them to potentially run afoul of GDPR. In Twitter’s case, that’s potentially keeping users on the platform that may be underage.
“GDPR wants every organization that handles personal data to always put the individuals’ best interest first. The force behind it — the fines — aligns what’s best for the individual with what’s best for the business,” Henein added.
That’s no consolation to Twitter users who remain locked out, however. In order to regain access to their accounts, Twitter is asking users to upload a copy of an ID, like their drivers license or birth certificate. Some users have said they had to send in copies of their ID several times before Twitter would recognize it as a valid form of identification, while others say that it took uploading the ID of a parent to get their accounts back.