Report: Facebook planning to build access for users younger than 13


(Scott Eells/BLOOMBERG)

Facebook may be planning to build technology that would allow children under 13 to register for the site and give their parents some control over how their kids may use it.

It’s not yet clear whether Facebook would put an under-13 network out there, as first reported in the Wall Street Journal. The Journal noted that Facebook often works to develop technology that it does not release to the public.

In compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, Facebook does not allow anyone under 13 to have a Facebook account — a rule that children and their parents regularly circumvent by posting false dates of birth.

In a statement, Facebook said, that it has been working to address the problem of children’s online safety and privacy.

“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,” the company said. “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.”

A person familiar with the situation said that the company is looking into the issue, but has not made any decisions about how to proceed.

Facebook co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has said in the past that he would like to have a broader conversation about including children younger than 13 on Facebook, once there was a way to assure that they would be safe online.

Zuckerberg has said that he sees a lot of potential for education and collaboration between students using Facebook tools, a model the company has already implemented for college students.

Adding tools for younger students would also give the network a new demographic target and would allow it to partner with companies and organizations that market to children, the report noted. “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.”

That idea has drawn criticism from groups such as Common Sense Media, whose chief executive officer, James Steyer, said Facebook “appears to be doing whatever it takes to identify new revenue streams and short-term corporate profits to impress spooked shareholders.”

Steyer said he does not believe there is any “meaningful social or educational value of Facebook for children under 13” and that he has serious concerns with privacy and development about opening the network to preteens.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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