If Facebook is working on a way for kids ages 12 and younger to join the social networking site, it's keeping those plans close to the vest. Not even a query from congressional privacy hawks Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.) could get the company to respond to a series of questions about how Facebook would handle child users or if it would target advertising to them.
"At this point, we have made no final decision whether to change our current approach of prohibiting children under 13 from joining Facebook," wrote Erin Egan, Facebook's chief policy officer. "If we decide to add tools to our service specifically for parents of kids under 13, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss our plans with you and your staff."
Reports surfaced in early June that Facebook was developing technology to let kids under 13 use the social networking site. That news immediately raised alarm bells with privacy hawks and lawmakers concerned that privacy controls are not tight enough because kids were already slipping through the cracks of Facebook's policies.
While admitting that kids under 13 still get through, Facebook explained in a nine-page response its current practices for prohibiting children using Facebook and how its policies are in compliance with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. Egan also included information about Facebook's new social reporting tool that allows teens to notify others of content they want removed from the social network, a feature that Markey and Barton have included as a provision in legislation to tighten children's privacy called the Do Not Track Kids Online Act.
All the more reason, argued Markey, for Congress to pass tougher privacy legislation to protect kids before Facebook rolls out a kiddie version.
"The privacy of personal information for preteens should not become a postscript in Facebook's drive for profits. Facebook must resist the impulse to violate users' privacy, including the millions of children and teens who are reportedly using its service. Now is the time we put children's privacy laws on the books to ensure Facebook and other online companies do exactly what we know they can do, and what we know they should do," Markey said in a statement.