7.5 Million Underage Facebook Users

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By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on May 11, 2011 12:44 PM

The words "Facebook" and "privacy concerns" seem to go hand-in-hand these days. The spotlight is again shining on the social networking site, as Facebook's underage users have risen to nearly 20 million strong. Of those 20 million minors, approximately 7.5 million were under the age of 13, according to a survey by Consumer Reports.

According to Facebook policy, users must be at least 13 years old to register for the site. Clearly, this policy is not stopping tech-savvy kids. All you really need to do is lie about your birthday, and you're in.

There are negative implications to this rise in the number of children using Facebook. Using Facebook can expose households and children to a variety of internet threats, ranging from identity theft and computer malware to cyber bullying and online predators, according to Consumer Reports.

Facebook might want to rethink its current privacy policies. Unwittingly, the vast number of underage Facebook users can also have implications in federal law.

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) was enacted in 1998. The law, under regulation by the Federal Trade Commission, places clear restrictions on websites about what information they can gather from children under the age of 13, and what they can do with the information.

COPPA requires that websites post comprehensive privacy policies. The regulations further mandate that websites get parental permission before collecting any personal information from their child. Under COPPA, websites must also give the parents full access to the information gathered from their child, and the option to delete the information if they see fit.

Currently, Facebook does not have privacy policies in place for children under the age of 13, reports CNet.com. While this is probably because Facebook users are supposed to be over the age of 13, the reality of the social networking site's user base is that many of them are young children. Plus, altering existing privacy policies to become compliant with COPPA regulations would require an extensive overhaul.

For Facebook, underage users are probably here to stay, unless the site alters its registration process, or cracks down on deleting fraudulent accounts. Maybe it's time for the social networking giant to create new privacy policies.

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