85 percent of 10-year-olds have a smartphone. Of these, 75% have Internet access, according to a recent study by the Public University of Navarra. Navigating virtual stores such as Amazon or Wallapop is relatively easy for a minor. But are they legally able to buy online? Although it is their natural habitat, the reality is that the law limits the power of action of young people in the world wide web.
The Civil Code recognizes unemancipated minors what is known in law as limited capacity to act. This means that they can acquire goods or services “of ordinary life proper to their age in accordance with social customs.” For example, a book or a toy, usually objects of little value.
The general rule, therefore, is that to buy – also online – minors need the permission of their parents or legal guardians. But every case deserves your study. Eugenio Ribón, president of the Spanish Association of Consumer Law, clarifies that the ability to buy from a minor “It must accommodate common sense.” Age is important: “The hiring of a 7-year-old child cannot be equally valued as that of a 17-year-old adolescent,” the lawyer adds.
What minors cannot buy are objects such as cars, jewelry, and in general, things “that do not correspond to their economic capacity,” explains the lawyer. Neither are products aimed at adults. Or something that compromises the financial capacity of their parents. “An envelope of stickers or a movie ticket is not the same as an annual subscription on a digital platform”, clarifies Ribón.
Félix Pastor Alfonso, partner at De la Riva and Pastor Abogados, agrees that a child cannot buy anything on platforms such as Wallapop or Vinted. “Except for very specific acts, minors cannot enter into contracts by themselves,” he recalls.
For her part, Rosana Pérez Gurrea, an expert lawyer in consumer law and professor at the Open University of Catalonia, goes further and affirms that in the Internet environment “minors do not have the ability to buy”, so they always “need permission from their parents.”
Creating a fake profile on the Internet is easy. Portals such as MediaMarkt or Amazon require their buyers to be over 18 years of age and sign responsible declarations in this regard. They try to exonerate themselves from any responsibility in the event of closing a sale with a minor who, legally, is not qualified to do so.
“It is the employer, and even more so in online contracting, who must articulate the appropriate mechanisms to ensure that the product or service he sells is directed to a person with full contracting capacity and that it conforms to social uses”, Ribón confirms. Pérez Gurrea adds, in this sense, that “there are digital certificates that make it possible to identify or relate all the parties.”
Without going any further, a few days ago Instagram announced that it will use Artificial Intelligence to detect the real age of its users. The objective of Mark Zuckerberg is to identify those profiles that hide behind false identities; in particular, to those under 14 years of age who are not allowed to access the network.
If, despite these controls, a minor buys something that he should not online, all is not lost and there is room to undo the mess. Pastor defends that, in these cases, the contract is “voidable”, but “once the age of majority is reached, the agreement would be confirmed, no matter how much it was concluded by the minor without the consent of the parents.” “If the annulment is requested, the lawsuit must be presented within 4 years,” says the lawyer.
However, there is a diversity of opinions. The lawyer Pérez Gurrea believes that, in these cases, the “contract is directly void due to lack of consent” – other than voidable -. In these cases it is as if the purchase had never existed.
Transfer of data. Those over fourteen years of age can voluntarily transfer their data, according to current data protection regulations. Below this limit, Sergio Cámara, Professor of Civil Law at the University of La Rioja, points out that “valid contractual consent could be in question without parental representation.”
Social networks. In Spain, the law limits access to social networks and chats to those over 14 years of age. However, each portal imposes its own rules and they play with this limit. Thus, on Instagram and Facebook you can only enter if you are over 14 years old; On the other hand, Twitter, WhatsApp or YouTube allow access from the age of 13.
Vulnerable consumers. Chamber explains that, in any case, minors would fall into the category of ‘vulnerable consumers’, a group of users that was created in January 2021. “These types of consumers enjoy special protection in relation to the way of supplying pre-contractual information adapted to its characteristics “, emphasizes the Professor.
Job. Minors familiar with the digital environment, such as children youtubers o go influencers, they can be valuable assets in the job market. Rosario Romero, partner at RB Legal, recalls in this matter that the Workers’ Statute generally prohibits the hiring of minors under 16 years of age. There is only one exception: “the hiring of minors under 16 to participate in public shows,” says the expert. In these cases, the hiring “must be authorized by the labor authority.”