By Roger Yu, USA TODAY
In a move that might draw cheers from some kids but add another item to parents’ chronic to-do list, Facebook may allow kids under 13 to create an account under parental supervision. Parents would be able to link their accounts to their children’s and control friend requests and third-party applications.
The plan, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, drew swift concern from privacy advocates and lawmakers. A federal law, Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), prohibits Internet companies from collecting personal information about children under 13 without verifiable parental consent, such as credit card information or a faxed signature. “In developing this new technology, Facebook needs to proceed with an abundance of caution,” says Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., whose House subcommittee oversees consumer privacy. “Very strict privacy protocols must be in place before younger children are allowed on social-networking sites.”
Facebook declined to elaborate, but a company statement hinted that the technology will help parents proactively oversee children’s activities and discourage kids from lying about their birth date to sign up. “Many recent reports have highlighted just how difficult it is to enforce age restrictions on the Internet, especially when parents want their children to access online content and services,” the company said.
While Facebook rejects anyone under 13, it acknowledges that parents often help create accounts for their children.
The company might be attempting to get ahead of a regulatory battle brewing in Washington to enact more stringent rules on collection of personal data from minors, says Jason Schultz, a University of California-Berkeley professor who co-authored a study last year on minors’ use of Facebook.