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itsme now available for 16 and 17-year-olds

Identity app focuses on promoting digital self-reliance among young people  

From now on, young people aged 16 and over can also create an account with itsme. The ID app wants to help reducing the digital divide among our youth. In fact, one-third of young people in Belgium appear to be struggling with the digital (r)evolution. 

Around 80% of adult Belgians (6.5 million of them, to be precise) have an itsme account, which they use to log in digitally to their bank, telecoms provider, health insurance fund, government services, etc. But until now, young people have been unable to create their own profile on the popular login app, whereas there are an increasing number of situations in which under-18s would also find it of value to use an itsme account: enrolling for higher education, dealing with the admin department for a holiday job, registering for a driving test, registering online for the European elections, voting online at the Flemish Youth Council, requesting personal information from your Flemish Citizen Profile app (Burgerprofiel), logging in to the CovidSafeBE app – and so on. 

Activation via the bank 

After a technical and legal review, itsme has decided to open up the identity app to 16 and 17-year-olds in Belgium as well. This means they will now be able to create their own itsme account via their bank (Belfius, BNP Paribas Fortis, ING, KBC, CBC, Fintro or Hello Bank), if they have recently had their eID card scanned in a bank branch. Creating an itsme account via the electronic identity card is not technically possible. This is because the signature certificate on the eID that is required to confirm your itsme registration is only activated from the age of 18 onwards.  

Let’s listen to Kato Mergan (17) who is delighted with the news that she can now create her own itsme account: “Particularly in the midst of Covid-19, it was not always easy as a young person if you didn’t have an itsme account. I was only able to log into the CovidSafeBE app via my parents’ itsme – or using a card reader that regularly sent out error messages. It made me swear sometimes, I can tell you – and things would have been much easier if I had had my own itsme account.”  

Kato thinks that 16 is the perfect age to be able to sign up for itsme: “I wouldn’t have done it earlier than that. But for a 16-year-old, it’s very handy to be able to identify yourself online. You’re also dealing with your own identity data, which is something you want to have some control over. As a young person, you also feel more actively involved in society with itsme and can gain some independence.” 

Fiction series to raise young people’s awareness on digitalisation 

itsme® has now joined forces with the educational school broadcaster ED TV. The aim of this digital platform for the young is to make it easier for socially sensitive topics to be discussed in the classroom. Working with itsme®, ED TV has developed two fiction series about active citizenship and media literacy. Each series consists of three or four 10-minute episodes, aimed separately at Dutch-language and French-language school audiences. Each episode comes with a teaching pack so that the class group can discuss things further or carry out assignments.  

Series One, about digital buddies, shows how young people can become a support and adviser for people who experience difficulty with digital tools, such as their grandparents or a neighbour. For example, they teach these (older) people how to attach a file to an e-mail. Thijs Antonneau (25), who plays the role of Youssef, finds out through his own life that young people can also become digital buddies. “These days, everything runs on a smartphone, so I try to keep my granddad up to date with what’s going on. He has itsme, but hasn’t really used it yet. He’s never been used to this sort of digital tool, so it’s harder for him to learn.” “For an older person, everything seems to go so fast,” adds Laure Ven (25), who plays the role of Amalia in the ED TV series. “We have grown up in a digital world, but for them it’s only happened in the last few years. Some things can be pretty hard to figure out when you get old. So there is certainly a part for young people to play there.” 

Nevertheless, it is not always easy for young people themselves to navigate their way through the digital world, even if they grew up in it. The second series from ED TV and itsme, about Cybersecurity, points out the dangers of the Internet to youngsters, giving them tips about including more cybersecurity in their dealings online. According to Laure Ven, education can certainly do a more to make young people more media-savvy. “At the moment, the content of the lessons available is not focused on what you encounter in real life. I take part myself in a number of educational features and in one, for example, it’s about using media photos. Young people often don’t realise that a photo can be posted online very quickly, but then it remains out there forever. Schools should prepare them better for what really happens in practice.”  

The imec Digimeter (2021) shows that young people in Flanders are becoming increasingly media aware. They tend to accumulate fewer social media platforms, for instance, impose more rules on themselves and want more control over their data. 

The digital divide and youth: some figures

By extending its app to 16 and 17-year-olds, itsme hopes to get this group involved with digitisation at an earlier age. Because even though they grew up with the Internet, we are still seeing a deeper digital divide emerging among youngsters. The recent Digital Inclusion Barometer from the King Baudouin Foundation, which is based on Flemish, Walloon and federal statistics, shows that in 2021, one in three (33%) young people aged between 16 and 24 had poorly developed digital skills. In particular, young people with low levels of education do not fit the stereotypical image of ‘digital natives’: 45% of them have poor digital skills, compared with 22% of those with a higher education qualification. There is also a growing gap when it comes to e-administration. Only 56% of poorly educated young people used e-administration services in 2021, compared with 86% with higher qualifications. This gap widened from 28% to 30% between 2019 and 2021. “All of this raises questions about the digitalisation of many services,” it says in the study. “A minimum skill set is needed to keep up in an ever-changing digitised world. So the widening gap is certainly problematic for certain groups of people.” 

The annual Digimeter survey from the imec research centre also features figures that are not very uplifting. Young people in Flanders may be very nimble-fingered when it comes to using their smartphone and TikTok, yet almost a quarter (24%) of 16 to 24-year-olds are not up to speed with all the digital jargon. For example, for 1 youngster in 4, terms such as the cloud, 5G, two-factor authentication, etc. are all a bit too technical for it to be implicitly assumed that young people know them well. In fact, 17% even say that they avoid some digital applications because they are simply not familiar with them. “As a society, we are facing a huge challenge if we intend to narrow this digital divide as soon as possible,” says imec.  

The generation of 'digital natives', having grown up in a constantly evolving digital world, is naturally more competent. However, these young people often only have a smartphone (97% of them) and are often helpless when faced with another computer tool. According to the ‘Baromètre sur la maturité numérique des citoyens wallons’ (2021), carried out by Digital Wallonia, as far as online administrative procedures are concerned, administrative sites are not very popular with the youngest members of the 15 to 25 age group, with the exception of that of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, and are especially favoured by the 25 to 55 or 60 age group. They are also significantly more used by people who have obtained a higher education and/or university diploma. According to the Walloon Barometer, digital education in schools needs to be drastically strengthened, whether for basic notions at primary school or for more specific aspects such as online safety, which is addressed from the 6th grade onwards.