Underage and on Facebook

From the Sunday paper.

Silly Bandz and Pokeman cards need to make room for another craze hitting the monkey bars crowd: Facebook.

Young children are flocking to social networking Web sites that had been the domain of smartphone-toting high-schoolers and young adults.

About 5 million U.S. users on Facebook are younger than 10 and 2.5 million subscribers are 11 or 12 years old, according to a recent survey by Consumer Reports magazine.

And the youngest of Web users aren’t just on Facebook. They are logging onto social networks such as Formspring, tweeting their location to the Web and making friends out of strangers on Disney and other games sites.

That’s a lot of freedom on the Internet for children who can’t ride in the front seat of a car or leave school with a friend without a signed permission slip from Mom or Dad.

Maybe too much freedom, in the opinion of child advocates and lawmakers, who are pressuring companies to work harder to keep the youngest users offline and to create federal rules that would limit how companies collect information about children on the Internet.

California is deliberating a bill that would give parents the right to demand that social networking sites such as Facebook delete addresses, e-mail accounts and other personally identifiable information about a youth if a parent asks. Facebook, Google and Twitter have launched an assault against the legislation, saying it squashes free expression.

U.S. Reps. Ed J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.) have proposed a bill that would make it harder for children to be tracked online and limit marketers from gathering information on a teen’s whereabouts and personal information.

“Companies have had their chance and they haven’t done enough. Kids can be targeted by scammers, cyber-bullies and marketers and the companies aren’t doing enough to protect them,” said Jim Steyer, president of child advocacy group Common Sense Media.

He and lawmakers such as Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) argue that the great technological minds of Silicon Valley ought to be able to do a better job of verifying the ages of their customers.

Facebook says that’s not so easy.

For the full story, click here.

“How stringent are you when it comes to your child and Facebook privacy?”

Cecilia Kang is a senior technology correspondent for The Washington Post.

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