Facebook is reportedly testing out controls that would allow users under the age of 13 to participate on the social network under parental supervision. Citing people who have spoken with Facebook executives about the project, WSJ.com reports mechanisms in testing include “connecting children’s accounts to their parents’ and controls that would allow parents to decide whom their kids can ‘friend’ and what applications they can use.”
Facebook has been put in the awkward position of having to consider allowing underaged users because so many currently lie about their age and are using the network anyway. However, it’s not all altruism or damage control; one mechanism they’re trying on would reportedly allow for parents to pay for games or apps their children access through Facebook. Revenue is clearly, at the very least, a secondary driver.
Last June, Consumer Reports magazine said they had unearthed “several disturbing findings” about children and Facebook, including:
- 20 million minors had used Facebook within the year prior to their study.
- 7.5 million of those users were under the age of 13 and not permitted to use the site.
- 5 million of those were 10 years old or younger.
- 1 million children had been harassed, threatened, or subjected to other forms of cyberbullying in the year prior.
At the time, Federal Trade Commission chair Jon Leibowitz told Consumer Reports, “We are very concerned about kids eliding around COPPA’s restrictions.” COPPA is the Federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, which prohibits sites from knowingly disclosing children’s personally identifiable information.
Facebook safety monitoring tool company Minor Monitor reports even scarier trends in their infographic based on a survey of 1,000 American parents (see above). According to their research, 4 percent of children on Facebook are 6 years old or younger.
Among parent concerns about their children using Facebook, 56 percent are worried about sexual predators, 49 percent fear their kids will share too much personal information, and 45 percent are afraid their children will connect with strangers. Surprisingly, 17 percent of these parents still don’t monitor their child’s Facebook activity at all.
Web community Sodahead surveyed 2,000 users back in March to learn whether parents are happy with Facebook’s current minimum age requirement. Forty-eight percent of parent respondents said 13 years old is just too young to use Facebook and felt the minimum age should be increased. Opinions varied widely though; 5 percent said 7- to 9-year-olds should be allowed.
Lawmakers are already expressing concern. What do you think of Facebook opening the floodgates to users of all ages and what controls do you think they need to have in place to make it work? Let us know in the comments.