(Paul Sakuma/AP)

In a letter to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, the groups said any space for preteen users should be free of advertising and supervised by parents.

The company this month floated the idea of allowing children 12 and under on its site with new age verification technology. The company would have to get parental permission from these young users if it were to collect personally identifiable information.

The consumer advocacy groups, which include Consumers Union, the Center for Digital Democracy, World Privacy Forum and Consumer Federation of America, said any collection of personal information shouldn’t be used by marketers to target ads at preteens based on the interests they display on Facebook.

“The company’s business model relies, at its very core, on data collection, ad targeting, and viral marketing, and many of its practices have generated public and government privacy concerns,” the groups said in their letter to Zuckerberg.

“We want assurances that any space created for children under the age of 13 on the site is safe, parent-guided and controlled, and, most importantly, free of ads.”

The controversial move to open up Facebook to underage users highlights a quandary for social networking sites, some analysts say.

Already an estimated 6 million users are underage on Facebook, which only allows users 13 years and older on the site. Verifying a user’s age online is rife with errors and problems, as pointed out in this New York Times story today.

But consumer and child advocates say by permitting children online, advertisers will begin tracking kids online at too early an age. They also worry about the social development of children who are spending more and more time online on social networks.

Facebook said in a statement that enforcing its age restrictions has been difficult “especially when many reports have shown parents want their children to access online content and services.”

“We welcome today’s recommendations by consumer, privacy, health and child groups as we continue our dialogue with stakeholders, regulators and other policy makers about how best to help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment,” Facebook said.


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