If Facebook Lets in Preteens, They Better Not See Any Ads and Parents Better Have Control, Say Consumer Groups

    June 22, 2012
    Josh Wolford
    Comments are off for this post.

Facebook’s longstanding rules on preteens accessing the service may be changing, as we learned earlier this month that the company was mulling the possibility of letting kids under the age of 13 join the network. Of course, opening up Facebook to a younger and younger member base comes with a series of risks, and it has been reported that to help counteract those risks any preteen account would have to sport some level of parental control.

Although Facebook has yet to acknowledge that they’re even thinking about this (only that they are always in talks about “how to help parents keep their kids safe”), it hasn’t stopped various public policy groups and child advocates from voicing concern, and even outrage in some cases. We all know that the online landscape can be rather dangerous for kids, and some people feel that Facebook is simply too mature of an environment to allow a ten-year-old to operate inside it – in any capacity, guided or not.

What kinds of safeguards and settings would you need to see from Facebook in order to feel comfortable letting your preteen join the site? Let us know in the comments.

Others may argue that fighting the inevitable is worthless, and at least this way parents can help their preteens navigate the minefield. Something like 38% of kids on Facebook are actually under the official age requirement, according to some reports. Plus, Facebook has said that they are removing around 20,000 underage accounts every day.

It’s obvious that the current policy, as it stands, is flawed. And when you think about just how hard it really is to verify age online, and how easy it is to lie – it’s no wonder Facebook may be thinking about simply opening up the floodgates and leaving it to parents to work this one out.

And if they wind up doing that they need to make a few guarantees, says a coalition of thirteen consumer groups. In a letter sent to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg today, these privacy watchdog groups say that above all, any preteen experience on Facebook “should be ad-free in its entirety.”

[T]he 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. If Facebook opens itself up to a younger audiences, 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 (including the range of practices that are routinely employed through social media marketing).

The groups also demand that Facebook links any preteen accounts with those of their parents. If the parents don’t have accounts, they say that some sort of separate login system should be present to give parents control over the account.

They also suggest granular control over any and every action taken by the child – sharing, responding to friend requests, app use, photos – you name it, it should all be controlled by the parent. Alongside this control, the group wants an educational campaign to better inform parents about the innerworkings of the site so they can make smarter decisions about their kids’ activities.

Finally, they demand that preteen accounts not be able to be made public by any means. Information should only be accessible to friends by default.

Of course, a lot of this hinges upon the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and any future changes made to it. Facebook have said that they are “mindful of COPPA,” and have even provided a formal response to it which you can check out here.

The letter was signed by the following groups:

Consumers Union, the Center for Digital Democracy, the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Center for Media Justice, Center for Science in the Public Interest, ChangeLab Solutions/Public Health Law & Policy, Children Now, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Watchdog, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Privacy Times, Public Citizen, and World Privacy Forum.

Here’s a statement I received from Facebook concerning these consumer groups’ letter:

Enforcing age restrictions on the Internet is a difficult issue, 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 policymakers about how best to help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment.

It’s clear that any move to allow younger kids on Facebook is going to draw a lot of concern – as it should. But it’s obvious that simply banning under-13s in the Statement on Rights and Responsibilities isn’t working – kids are going to get it. Whether it’s allowing them to join with parental guidance, or trying to make it tougher with something like facial age recognition, it’s pretty clear that the issue will be addressed and policies modified in the near future.

Do you think that kids under the age of 13 have a place on Facebook? Considering they are going to log on despite the rules, wouldn’t it make sense for parents to shepherd them through their first social media experience? Or is 10 or 11 simply too young for Facebook – no matter how much control you take away from them? Let us know what you think in the comments.

  • John

    As a web site owner I may decide not to pay to advertise on FB if this happens….It would be pointless at that point for anyone other than those selling kid related products . . . As a parent I think there are plenty of other sites for kids other than a site founded on the premise of guys rating women they wanted to have sex with. . . All those same people are still there and while I am not a prude, FB isn’t the place for a ten year old. I also think anyone letting their children freely surf the net needs to have their head examined.

  • bIB

    I thought everyone that used Facebook were under 13

    • http://www.webpronews.com/author/josh-wolford Josh Wolford

      no, but apparently a pretty big chunk is…

  • http://www.eyesopen.org.uk Darren Bristow

    Online age verification is a minefield. I don’t see how facial recognition software can solve this problem.
    Parents should take more responsibility for their child’s online behaviours and ignorance or being a technophobe is no excuse. If FB do open up to preteens, and I sincerely hope they don’t, I believe their parents/guardians must first complete an online “awareness” training session, bit like learning to drive and the highway code. This could be a joint exercise carried out with the young person so that they are both aware of the good and bad sides of FB.

  • http://www.jloescher.com Jonathan

    John you should read more carefully, the article states any preteen profile should be ad-free.

    And if they wind up doing that they need to make a few guarantees, says a coalition of thirteen consumer groups. In a letter sent to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg today, these privacy watchdog groups say that above all, any preteen experience on Facebook “should be ad-free in its entirety.”

    However I disagree with the ad-free on the profiles for under 13. Though they should be filtered to allow only child safe material. But children are marketed to on every television network they watch, why would it matter if they are marketed to on Facebook?

    I can see Facebook setting up a account for the parents to allow a certain dollar amount for spending if anything. The child could get their allowance this way. LOL

    As for other items such as “granular control over any and every action taken by the child – sharing, responding to friend requests, app use, photos” I would think this would be done through filtering by the parents initial setup of the account allowing the child to see only certain areas of the site.

    As for the portion about the child’s profile being public that should be defaulted to friends/family only, then if the parent wants they can enable a larger public base. I however agree it should be setup as a subordinate of the parents account.

    With children having access to Facebook and immersing themselves in a structured environment it will allow the child to thrive technologically and be interested in more things in life.

    • http://www.webpronews.com/author/josh-wolford Josh Wolford

      It’s true that a kid’s offline world is definitely no ad-free zone. It’s possible that some child advocates have a problem with targeted ads?

  • http://www.beterhosten.nl Rudy

    Have the child advocates been living under a rock or what? I mean, come on, it’s preteen kids all over the place. My own 12 yr old daughter has a FB-account as well as all of her preteen friends. They fill in a ‘false identity’ (age) and they’re good to go.

    • http://www.webpronews.com/author/josh-wolford Josh Wolford

      And that’s the problem I believe. Opening the site up to preteens along with parental controls could mean a safer environment for them. Because like I said, it’s damn near impossible to accurately verify age online.

  • Chris

    C’mon. Does anyone, including these so-called watchdog groups, seriously believe that everyone on Facebook is over 13? They just lie about their age when they join. Uhm… duh!
    It would be a stupid marketing move for Facebook to publicly announce this. They should just leave it the way it is; They know kids are on there. So be it.
    And don’t get me started on these ridiculous watchdog groups! Their mere presence is a farce. Watching out for kids is the parents responsibility. That’s one thing wrong with the world today: Parents need to be more responsible. These are our kids, not the governments or private watchdog groups. I will control what my kid does. I’ll control where he goes online. That’s why I use online parental controls. The internet is a free ground, and it should stay that way. Facebook is what it is. Other websites are what they are. Site owners shouldn’t have to control what they do because of worrying about kids going there. I own a website, and it’s not censored, and it never will be. And as a parent, I also understand that there’s only so much I can shield him from.
    Parents need to do their job, and let the websites do what they shall.

  • exswiss

    I have a deal with my daughter. (<13)
    She tells me what she does on FB, also none of those stupid apps that want to know and be allowed whatever. I know her password, can see her messages.
    I explain her what is safe to do in the internet and FB, where all the data ends up (Who knows where..) aso.
    And most important: she trusts me and I trust her! (Did grow her up this way)
    Her contacts are friends from schools, some teachers, family.
    Ads? frankly I have never realized there are any, neither has she.
    Trusting FB to protect my child? Never ever!

    • http://www.webpronews.com/author/josh-wolford Josh Wolford

      I think the model that they want is something like what you’ve mentioned – parents playing a big role in the kids’ Facebook life. They want Facebook to build in controls like the ones you describe – password linking, ability to make account decisions and see their messages, etc.

      • http://cass-hacks.com Craig

        All that works great for parents who already don’t need it.

        None of it will protect the kids who are most vulnerable.

        A lot of time, effort, complexity and confusion for something that really accomplishes nothing that isn’t or can’t already be done.

        A nice false sense of security while the children all the do-gooders think they are protecting are if anything, worse off than they were before.

  • Gammon

    I don’t see any harm in it as long as it is 100% ad free.

  • http://www.countrydachshundkennel.com Lisa

    My 10 year old grandson has a FB page! What do you mean start letting kids have a page?! They’ve been doing it forever.

  • sheldon

    Kids are already signing up and putting in a false age just to get on facebook.
    So all of a sudden they are 18 (really 12 or younger) and getting all kinds of people talking to them.
    I’d rather see facebook allow people to put their real age in no matter their age and then if they are under 13 limit the content.
    Disney does this great authorization of parents and parents can manage the access of their kids accounts.
    Kids are smart… tell them no and they go ok I’m not 8 I’ll just pick a random year that’s way older. Hows the computer to know.
    Lets open it up and allow people to be who they are and not who they are forced to be because of stupid rules.

  • http://www.pc-chaperone.com Kevin

    Education and god parental controls are the only option. One cannot work without the other

    As for ads, why is it bad for FB to throw ads at kids while it’s ok to advertise to kids on TV, especially during child programming such as cartoons? Provided the ads are age appropiate, I don’t see the difference

  • http://www.captaincyberzone.com Cap’n Cyberzone

    Sure, right! “We promise no ads for kids.”
    I remember Cable TV promising “No ads! Never.”
    In a blink of an eye those little kids will lose their innocence and childhood to the ‘sugar to sex’ hustlers .
    The likes of Google will be right behind …
    money, money, money (“Screw the kids!” “Profits!”).

  • Rebecca

    Why can’t they have an account? I have always thought this was a stupid rule. My daughter is ten. She has an account. When she’s on her account on her computer; I’m on her account on mine, watching. She knows this; it’s not an invasion of her privacy. She was the very last one in her fifth grade class to get a FB account last year. She did not set it up, I did. She ASKS before she adds and app, she ASKS before she clicks an ad, she ASKS before she adds a friend, and she ASKS before she joins or plays on any other internet site. Her computer time is also limited to about four hours a week, yes, even in the summer when school is out.

    It all comes down to parenting. I do my job. It’s not FaceBook’s job and it’s not ‘child advocacy’ groups’ job either. It’s MINE.

    If I am doing my job, she can have an account. FB shouldn’t tell me how to parent.

    If someone is NOT doing their job, then their kids have accounts anyway and they just don’t know it. And they’re unaware of what goes on on the accounts.

    It’s like the old gun saying, “If guns are outlawed, the only ones to have guns will BE outlaws.”

    They’re on there anyway. At least my child is protected…by ME.

    • http://cass-hacks.com Craig

      Shame on you Rebecca for being a good parent!

      Now, if the US could just find a couple more million like you! 😉

      Sometimes I wonder if the real question isn’t, “Should children be allowed on Facebook?’ and instead is, “Should some people be allowed to have children that they don’t plan on raising themselves?”

    • http://www.eembroiderydesigns.com Alice

      Well said Rebecca.

  • http://cass-hacks.com Craig


    Facebook isn’t even publicly considering allowing the younger population in yet that doesn’t stop people from going bonkers over how they think Facebook is already not doing what they aren’t doing right.

    Sounds like something that comes right out of the Pointless Department of Pointless Policies.

    As for policies for children, which will get ignored and bypassed in any event, giving a ‘parent’ unconditional access to their children’s accounts would be the logical, if not impossible to implement solution.

    How does one prove a given account is ‘owned’ by someone under a given age?

    Good luck with that.

    How does a ‘parent’ prove they are the legal guardian of another given account holder?

    You”ll likely have even more fun with that.

    Do both of the above without people having to submit what they would start screaming ‘privacy violation’ over and you’ve got yourself a winner.

    Another option, implement parents who don’t rely any everyone except themselves to raise their own children.

    Anything else is just a bunch of hand-waiving, wishful thinking and a big waste of money.

  • http://www.kiwicornerdairy.com Jim Fisher

    Should be discussing “pre-schools”. Many children from about 10 up are already using Facebook. How about discussing embracing the technology and learning/teaching with our children what’s right and what’s wrong.

    Children (with good parenting) have a better ethics, understanding and morals than many adults give them credit for. They are also very capable of making well thought out decisions and choices!

  • http://internationalcontentcreators.com Melanie

    To the advertisers like John who may change their mind about advertising – the kids are already there. 98% of my daughters 6th grade class has a Facebook page and it is the same everywhere else. Admitting it is happening would just be the end of a very big charade.

  • McGruff SafeGuard

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  • http://www.mabuzi.com KEVIN

    A lot of kids are already on FB and thier parents know or helped them sign.
    So now we can add them to the database earlier, market to them earlier too. Thats all FB really is, 1 gaint database that sells your personal information to marketers and 3rd parties.

    If teens and adult cant contain themselves and put up photos and information, that is there till the digital world ends, that is totally embarrasing imagine whats going to happen now.

    From the cradle to the grave.

  • Ray

    I work at a middle school (ages 10-13yrs) and just about all mention their Facebook pages, and this is a big reason I do not participate in Facebook. Anybody can join, claim to be who ever they want, and whatever age they wish to be. These are poorer inner city kids and most of them don’t even have internet access at home; so much for parent monitoring. Good luck Facebook and any other currently popular web site, because it really is not going to be possible to stop the kids from joining.

  • Joshua

    The fact is that kids are joining facebook already by lying about their age. I am not sure how well facial recognition will work, as when I post photographs, it isn’t always accurate when it asks me who a person is in regards to tagging the photographs. Facebook could put a ban on certain content being advertised on their site, but what if a kid is friends with somebody with a lack of discretion who posts something inappropriate?

    People already can sign up for multiple accounts by using multiple e-mail addresses. I have had a concern as well though, that if children can lie about their ages on facebook, so can other people- people with bad motivations. There needs to be a way to actually making sure that the age mentioned is real when they sign up. Captcha won’t cut it. It is not good enough. Half of the time “Captcha” cannot be read, and when it can be, it only proves a person is human.

    Also, as long as a person is able to lie about their age, blocking underage users from publicizing their account is still flawed. Only if it can be proven that the user is the age that they claim to be when they sign up, will blocking underage users from publicizing their account actually work.
    Monitoring systems for parents are good, but what if the parents don’t have any idea that they need to use them? Parents are not always aware of what their children are doing. Most filtering and monitoring systems have a way around them too. I have mixed feelings about this. I don’t want any children that I know to be connecting with somebody on facebook that abuses their access to facebook for wrong motives. I feel like if facebook already cannot control what age group is joining facebook, is announcing that they will allow younger ages even a wise thing? It may be opening another can of worms. It will increase the amount of underage users, and it may increase risks for the children.

  • norm

    Personally I think the entire USA should shut down to protect their children. Your nation has already messed itself up with laws so that nobody in my country does business with you, now I hope you do the same with the web so the rest of the world can take it over and make the money your companies are now making :) And guess what? I know it will happen!! The US regulators will preen like idiots and the smart money will move their headquarters to China :) AGAIN!!!

  • http://plutocrazy.info Len

    Facebook has proven over and over again, all the matters is money. The social media site is no longer growing at the breakneck rate is once did, and may soon see zero growth in US based users, so naturally they’ll allow preteens to access the site to shore up their numbers.

    To think FB will do so and not bombard them with ads is fantasy. As for parental control… Facebook can’t won’t keep adults’ personal information private, or can’t. To hope they will do so with kids, a huge new market, more fantasy. But on the bright side, pre-teens, even teens and tweens are the demographic most being swayed away by newer, cooler social media sites. Facebook, to them, is mom and dad’s social network, about as much fun as attending a social function for adults.

    I figure FB “mulling over” letting preteens access their service is a defacto announcement they intend to do just that… but if there is enough of a consumer backlash maybe, just maybe the idea will be shelved.

  • http://proventus.org.uk Provpeter

    Why the outcry? There is nothing to prevent anybody, what ever their age, joining face book or any other social site. All they have to do is lie about their age. It is already occuring, older people pretending to be young to ensnare youngsters? So what is to stop young people pretending to be old? Nothing.

  • Dad of Four

    The unadulterated hubris of the parents proudly proclaiming and approving that it’s perfectly fine that their under 13 year old children are breaking the TOS and are already on Facebook is astounding. Congratulations, you by your example and encouragement, have put your stamp of approval on dishonesty and lack of ethical behavior that will serve as a solid foundation for future obfuscation of ethical societal behavior for years to come. “It’s O.K., Johnny, to lie about your age, everyone is doing it.” When they’re 16, be sure to tell them that it’s O.K. to get a fake ID with an age old enough to buy booze. Go ahead and encourage them to cheat on tests to get better grades, too. Oh, and when they’re old enough to pay taxes, let them know it’s O.K. to play fast and loose with the numbers, or better yet, hold up Bernie Madoff and the executives at Enron as examples to emulate.

    Parents raising little liars that will one day grow up to big liars just like their parents. All for the sake of Farmville. Unbelievable. No wonder our country is in such terrible shape.

  • http://www.computernostalgia.net John

    Let’s face it – there are loads of preteens using Facebook already – they just lie about their date of birth when they sign-up !

  • Sally

    I work in a primary school 3-11year olds – many of the children already use facebook and this causes esafety issues : at least if facebook ‘allow’ it we will be able to teach the children how to use it safely and about the securities – whereas at the moment we cant. Facebook need to make the security much more transparent both for children and adults and flag up when they change things. They imho need to think about disabling some links on childrens accounts (or allow the disablement of) – my views for what their worth :)

  • jan

    Who is checking their ages? And how do they do that?
    Don’t make me laugh. Many children under 13 are on facebook (and other similar sites) already. They just lie about their age.

  • Nettie

    I have a 11 year old son (almost 12) and he is NOT on Facebook. I do know a lot of other kids my sons age and younger who are on facebook. I support the parent’s right to decide what’s best for their child. I also feel if parents allow their kids on facebook they should monitor it better. Ever parent and child is different! I think it would be nice if there was a way to create our childs account through our own so everything, all activity, that occurs on their account comes to us first. Then we can decide what is posted and/or viewed by our child on a per case bases.

  • SpyderJan

    I don’t think it matters what Facebook does. I know that there are a ton of under 13’s on Facebook already. How do I know this? My niece and all of her friends are on Facebook and none of them are 13 or over. They don’t have to try to pose as teens, nobody seems to care although I do worry about stalkers and pervs who might be out there.

  • http://www.promocodes.co.uk Deirdre Attinger

    My 10year old nephew is on Facebook, which I personally think is awful!
    – Responsibility for preventing Under 13s joining did not lies fully with parents. My sister admitted that she gave in to her son’s pleading to join. This seems to be pretty common!

    Having Granular control will work depending on how well the parent uses and checks it.

    If Facebook is allowing pre-teens to have profiles going forward, then they should ensure that these profiles are not public at all, and no marketing/advertising should be displayed, however I can’t see that happening at all, i’m certain this will new revenue opportunity.

  • Brad

    I closed my FB account and haven’t missed it.
    Maybe we should teach our kids the old art of writing letters or an email to keep in touch.

  • http://www.jkershaw.info James Kershaw

    We never had “social media” as kids. I would attend young people’s groups, play softball at the park or attend a conference in another city. I guess I was lucky in many ways. I had a few hobbies such as woodworking which I performed in the basement. I guess I am VERY lucky not to have spent a sedentary life looking at your “social media” which is truthfully far removed from anything social. There are no real live people. I shy away from FB, etc and prefer face to face contact.

  • laurie

    The kids are already on there, it’s better that they consider how to deal with it responsibly rather than everyone just wishing things could be like “the good old days” before there was an internet.

    I think a parental controlled account which can be “liberated” from the parent when the kid turns 18 is EXACTLY the correct way to go.