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A parenting perspective on the latest headlines
Jun 6, 2012
11:09 AM

Facebook Considers Lowering Age Limit

Should children under age 13 be allowed on Facebook with parental consent, or is the possible restriction change just a recipe for disaster?

Facebook Considers Lowering Age Limit

Kids across southeast Michigan – and the globe – who are younger than 13 could soon be joining the millions of high school students, college students and adults using Facebook.

Facebook is reportedly working on technology that would allow children under 13 access to Facebook with parental consent, The Wall Street Journal reported. The new technology would require parents to connect to their child's profile, and parents could then monitor their child's profile and Facebook activities, WSJ reports.

But the "kid-friendly" version of Facebook has raised concerns about young users' safety and privacy.

Currently, Facebook specifically states that in order to create a profile, individuals must be at least 13. Profiles created by children who are tweens or younger – including profiles made by parents for children – are in violation of the site's "statement of rights and responsibilities," Facebook says on its help page for parents.

The golden age is dictated by the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, which "bans websites from collecting information from users under 13," according to PC Mag.

But the age restriction has been difficult to enforce, says Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes, according to The Washington Post.

"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," Noyes told the Post.

It's true. According to a recent Consumer Reports study, approximately 5.6 million underage kids have accounts on Facebook. Consumer Reporters says Facebook shut down about 800,000 underage users' accounts in the last year alone.

The study found some concerning information about Facebook's young users, however.

Consumer Reports discovered that, of minors using Facebook, about 800,000 of them were harassed or "subjected to forms of cyberbullying on Facebook."

"Our survey also shows that most parents who knew their preteen used Facebook had not discussed online threats with them or 'friended' them," Consumer Reports notes, "while up to a third did nothing to keep up with their children's Facebook activities."

Of course, aside from cyberbullying, there is some concern about children's privacy. With the parental consent, Facebook would be able to use information from Facebook to "sell tailored advertisements to the children," say analysts, according to The Washington Post.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) spoke out on the matter in a June 4 letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, The Washington Post reports.

"We acknowledge that more and more children under the age of 13 are using Facebook, and this is a problem that needs to be addressed," Markey and Barton wrote, according to The Washington Post. "However, we believe strongly that children and their personal information should not be viewed as a commodity to be bought and sold to the highest bidder."

At the moment, Facebook is reportedly working on the technology to make the switch. No launch date has been announced.

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