Following its $16 billion infusion from its recent IPO, the world’s largest social network is reportedly developing a technology that would allow children to access Facebook under parental supervision.
A Facebook spokesperson neither confirmed nor denied that they are developing such technologies, saying in an email that the company had nothing to announce. The original report came from the Wall Street Journal.
It is important to note that Facebook currently has a policy that bars children under 13 from creating an account, though it is widely understood that such a rule is incredibly difficult to enforce.
The move would open a vast, long-term, and impressionable market for the newly public company. Investors will no doubt welcome the idea as Facebook struggles with its tempestuous post IPO period; however, privacy and children’s advocates are obviously concerned.
Common Sense Media’s CEO James Meyer released the following statement today, saying the move could have serious consequences for younger users.
“With the growing concerns and pressure around Facebook’s business model, the company appears to be doing whatever it takes to identify new revenue streams and short-term corporate profits to impress spooked shareholders. But here’s the most important issue: there is absolutely no proof of any meaningful social or educational value of Facebook for children under 13. Indeed, there are very legitimate concerns about privacy as well as the impact on the social, emotional, and cognitive development of children. What Facebook is proposing is similar to the strategies used by Big Tobacco in appealing to young people – try to hook kids early, build your brand, and you have a customer for life. What’s next? Facebook for toddlers?”
The WSJ report claims that Facebook’s move to include children could involve connecting potential kid-accounts with those of their parents, giving parental accounts authority to accept or decline ‘friend’ requests and application usage.
Facebook’s spokesperson said that Facebook is in a phase of looking into and discussing the issue, but pointed out that the company regularly tests things that, in the end, never get deployed.
“Many 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,” the spokesperson said in an email statement. “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.”
The spokesperson stressed that any decision regarding the allowance of children on Facebook would have nothing to do with revenue.
Tim Armstrong, a Kaspersky Lab researcher who focuses on social media, expressed concern as well. In an email interview, Armstrong cited Facebook’s default lack of privacy as a serious concern.
“If the same lack of attention to protecting users is applied to children, who may be overly trusting, it becomes far more dangerous,” Armstrong said. “Unfortunately, it may be easier for child predators to find new targets through a widened audience.”
On a positive note, Armstrong said, a legitimate 13 and under account, potentially with protections in place, if such protections were to be implemented, would be safer than kids under 13 making accounts and lying about their age.
The problem of adult predators aside, Armstrong also worries that letting kids on Facebook could open new avenues for cyber-bullying, which is already problem enough if you’ve been paying attention to the morning talk shows.
The Wall Street Journal article is behind a pay wall, but Larry Magid, who admittedly runs a non-profit that recieves financial support from Facebook, explores the topic in an article published this morning in the Huffington Post.