Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Facebook looking to expand to younger-aged children

Parents worldwide may quake in fear over this news, although it still falls in the realm of "rumor." Coming from the Wall Street Journal, though, there is some validity to it: Facebook is working on technology that will allow those younger than 13 years old - its current limit - to use the social networking site (under parental supervision).

The changes would allow Facebook access to a huge new market of users. Any parent with children below 13 will note that most of them know about Facebook, and many of them want a Facebook account, too. However, restrictions on site use by children 12-and-under, via COPPA, for example, mean that many websites, not just Facebook, do not allow underage children.

Sources who have spoken to Facebook executives - to be clear, not Facebook executives themselves - told the WSJ that the protective mechanisms being tested include connecting the accounts of children to their parents' accounts, as well as controls to allow parents to determine who can "friend" their and what applications their children can use.

The sources added that Facebook might even use these features to generate a new revenue stream, by charging parents for games and other sorts of entertainment used by their kids.

Naturally, some children lie about their age in order to gain access to Facebook. There is no "legitimate way" for those under 13 to sign up for an account, though. In some cases, parents are even the "enablers" for these kids, helping them sign up, doing so under Facebook's radar.

MinorMonitor, which allows parents to monitor their children's Facebook activities, recently released the results of a survey of 1,000 parents. It found that, even with Facebook's age restriction in place, some 38 percent of children on Facebook are under 13. An estimated 40 out of every 1,000 children on Facebook, it said, are under the age of six.

Facebook, already aware that there are numerous under-age users on its site, may feel that it has little choice but to formalize their presence on the site. The company acknowledged that it continues to examine the question of children on the site. In an emailed statement, the company said:

"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. We are in continuous dialogue with stakeholders, regulators and other policymakers about how best to help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment."

In the statement, Facebook did not address the report, or mention any sort of  technology that might allow those 12-and-under to join the site.

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