Source: The Wall Street Journal
Facebook is developing technology that would allow children younger than 13 years old to use the social-networking site under parental supervision, a step that could help the company tap a new pool of users for revenue but also inflame privacy concerns.
Mechanisms being tested 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, people who have spoken with Facebook executives about the technology said. The under-13 features could enable Facebook and its partners to charge parents for games and other entertainment accessed by their children, the people said.
Facebook currently bans users under 13. But many kids lie about their ages to get accounts, putting the company in an awkward position regarding a federal law that requires sites to obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting personal data from children.
Any attempt to give younger kids access to the site would be extraordinarily sensitive, given regulators' already heightened concerns about how Facebook protects user privacy. But Facebook, concerned that it faces reputational and regulatory risks from children already using the service despite its rules, believes it has little choice but to look into ways of establishing controls that could formalize their presence on the site, people familiar with the matter said.
"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 is not clear when or if the social-networking company might introduce an under-13 service.
Pressure on Facebook to prevent children from lying to get accounts has ramped up over the past year as studies started to quantify the number of underage users on the site. Consumer Reports last year said 7.5 million children under the age of 13 were using the site, including more than five million under the age of 10. High-profile cases of so-called cyber bullying have added to the concern. Facebook counts 900 million users around the world.
A study sponsored by Microsoft Research released last fall found that 36 percent of parents were aware that their children joined Facebook before age 13 and that a substantial percentage of those parents helped their kids in the effort.