Facebook is working on technology that would let kids under the age of 13 sign up for the social network, according to people familiar with the matter. Surveys, meanwhile, show that a bunch of them are already there.
Facebook currently won’t let users under the age of 13 set up accounts. Last June, however, Consumer Reports released a study that found that of the 20 million children signed up for Facebook, a whopping 7.5 million were under the age of 13. Of those illegitimately using the site, five million children were under the age of 10.
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Then in the fall, researcher Danah Boyd released a study sponsored by Microsoft Research that found 36% of parents were aware that their children joined Facebook before age 13 and that a substantial percentage of those parents helped their kids lie about their age in order to sign up.
The survey found that 55% of parents of 12 year olds reported their child has a Facebook account, and 82% of those parents knew when their underage child signed up. Ms Boyd also found that 76% of those parents helped their children set up an account.
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Facebook is now developing technology to let children under the age of 13 use the site with parental supervision, people familiar with the matter said. Mechanisms being tested include connecting a child’s account to their parents’ and controls allowing parents to decide whom their kids can “friend” and what applications they can use, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.
[More from WSJ.com: Social-Media Sites Can Mean Trouble at the Office]
“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,” Facebook said in response to questions about the new technology. “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.”
Child advocates are split over whether Facebook should allow children to access the site. Douglas Gansler, the attorney general of Maryland, said he “would like to see Facebook create a safe space for kids … with the extra protections needed to ensure a safe, healthy, and age appropriate environment.”
[More from WSJ.com: Monitor Kids on Facebook]
Others, however, said the company should focus on educating parents to keep their kids off the site. James Styer, CEO of Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based child advocacy group, said “a move like this smacks of commercial greed at its worst.”
Mr. Styer added, “I don’t think the pressure is that they should allow under age kids on Facebook. … If that’s the reason, then Facebook ought to make a major public education campaign saying nobody under 13 should ever be on this site and make that a central feature of their messaging. Why aren’t they doing that?”