Report: Facebook Testing Technologies To Allow Children Under 13, With Parental Controls

By David Cohen 

According to published reports, Facebook is testing technology aimed at scrapping its oft-ignored minimum age of 13 and allowing younger kids to join the social network, albeit with parental supervision.

The Wall Street Journal said Facebook is testing options including linking children’s accounts to those of their parents, and parental controls that would allow parents to approve friends and applications before their kids could gain access to them.

Facebook said in a statement to the Journal:

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. We are in continuous dialog with stakeholders, regulators, and other policy makers about how best to help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment.

This may seem like a questionable time for Facebook to pursue these potential changes, with privacy concerns about the social network constantly in the news, along with instances of cyber-bullying.

On the other hand, with more and more parents aiding their kids under the age of 13 with establishing accounts on Facebook — the Journal cited a Consumer Reports study last year saying that 7.5 million children under the age of 13 were using Facebook, including more than 5 million under the age of 10 — a kid-friendly way to access the social network with parental controls may help alleviate some of those concerns.

Naturally, there is a profit motive, as well, as Facebook would like to take aim at the mobile gaming market and carve itself a niche of users in that age range.

Reaction to the news was mixed. Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler, who has been pushing Facebook to come up with ways to protect children under 13 on the social network, told the Journal:

We would like to see Facebook create a safe space for kids, a sanctuary, with the extra protections needed to ensure a safe, healthy, and age-appropriate environment.

But James Styer, chief executive officer of child-advocacy group Common Sense Media, countered:

We don’t have the proper science and social research to evaluate the potential pros and cons that social-media platforms are doing to teenagers. The idea that you would go after this segment of the audience when there are concerns about the current audience is mind-boggling.

Readers: Do you think Facebook is doing the smart thing in exploring technologies to allow children under 13 on the social network, considering the large number of them who already access it, or should the company move in the opposite direction and push parents to help it enforce the age limit?

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