Facebook Seeking Solution for ‘Under-13’ Problem

The “only over-13” rule currently in effect on the world’s biggest social network, Facebook, could be the thing of the past once the company releases the currently under-development technology that would allow kids to link their profiles to those of their parents. Although the list of features hasn’t yet been finalized, under discussion is allowing parents complete parental control over their children’s pages, down to the power to approve or veto friend requests. The parents will also have the final say over the apps their children are allowed to install and use.

Currently, users under the age of 13 are banned from the site due to the difficulty of obtaining parental consent for collection of information from children that young, which is a requirement under federal law. Although opening its site to younger kids could potentially draw heightened scrutiny from regulators who are already looking askance at the company for its its policies with regard to user privacy, the fact that many young kids already create accounts but lie about their age, puts pressure on Facebook for formalize the rules under which kids of any age can join and use it.

“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,” Facebook said in response to questions about the new technology. “We are in continuous dialogue with stakeholders, regulators and other policy makers about how best to help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment.”

Facebook often develops technology that never finds its way to public release, and it isn’t clear when or if the social-networking company might introduce an under-13 service.

A recent study, sponsored by Microsoft Research, found that more than a third of parents were aware of the fact that their children created accounts on the social network before they turned 13. As a matter of fact, many parents helped their kids set up the accounts. According to Consumer Reports, nearly 7.5 million out of Facebook’s 900 million users, were under 13 and nearly 5 million of those were under the age of ten.

The data fueled concerns about how Facebook handles user privacy in general. The company in November agreed to a 20-year settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over accusations that it misled users about its use of their personal information. The social network acknowledged making mistakes and agreed to regular privacy audits.

Steps to allow young users access to Facebook have been in the works for over a year. Last summer, the company sent out feelers to firms that specialize in identity verification in order to find out if there was a possible way to check that parents had consented to a creation of a kid’s profile.

06 6, 2012
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