This week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook is working on technology that would let children younger than 13 years old use the site under parental supervision. This would be a dramatic change from the current setup, where you must be at least 13 years old to sign up and use the network.
CNN writer John D. Sutter, following up his network’s report on the plans, recapped the reactions of internet commenters. Some disagreed with letting under-13s on to the site: “No. Flying Green Monkeys. No,” one commenter said. Others were more positive about the idea: “I wouldn’t have a problem with my children (both going on 11) using FB [Facebook]. However, I would set up the controls myself (i.e. parental, only friends can see, etc.) and monitor closely. The same way I would with a 13 year old (or older).”
The reality of the Facebook debate is that it is difficult to enforce age restrictions. Whether you agree or disagree with allowing children under 13 to use Facebook, the fact is many are using it already and their parents are aware of it. Last year, Consumer Reports found that 7.5 million kids under 13 are on Facebook and Microsoft Research found that more than half of 12-year-olds and almost a third of 11-year-olds are using the site. Again, their parents have knowledge of their Facebook activity.
It makes you wonder – if these kids are violating the Facebook Terms of Service (TOS) and using the website alongside teens and adults without restrictions, perhaps it would be safer for Facebook to actually permit them to use the site, with parental controls for more safety?
Larry Magid, a contributor at Forbes.com, thinks that letting kids under 13 onto Facebook would be safer. He said:
“I think Facebook should allow children under 13 but, as I said last year, it has to be done carefully and thoughtfully with extra precautions. There needs to be parental involvement and control and Facebook needs to provide extra privacy protections for young children that would include more secure defaults than it has for teens and adults. There are already additional privacy protections for users under 18, but the company needs to be even more careful for younger children. Ideally, I would like to see children under 13 have an ad-free experience and Facebook certainly must avoid collecting and storing personal information about children other than what is needed to provide them the service.”
I feel that the more parental involvement in a child’s digital life, the better. As you may know, we run a site called JustAskGemalto.com that gives practical tips for managing your digital life, which includes many tips for parents. Whether children are on social networking sites, playing video games, using the general Internet or a mobile phone, we believe that parents should always be monitoring activity and implementing controls when possible.
That said, on the Facebook issue, we tend to agree with Forbes’ Magid. It remains to be seen whether Facebook’s proposed parental controls are sufficiently secure, but if kids are going to be on Facebook anyway, it makes sense to ensure it is as safe and secure as possible.