Facebook’s current policy on the minimum age to create an account is that “[i]n order to be eligible to sign up for Facebook, people must be 13 years of age or older.” On June 4, 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook was considering changing its age policy and permitting younger users to join the social network.
Following that news, heated debate of the pros and cons of the ability to officially “friend” tweens ensued.
What did not happen? Any final decision by Facebook. In June, the company said, “At this point, we have made no final decision whether to change our current approach of prohibiting children under 13 from joining Facebook.” Since June there has been no official news from the company on the topic.
It’s unclear if or when a decision will come, and the reasons for the delay are similarly unknown although there are several possible reasons.
- The delay could be due to the fact the technology Facebook was reportedly testing, including the connection of children’s accounts to their parents’ and controls that would allow parents to decide whom their kids can “friend” and what applications they can use, is perhaps not ready.
- Legal issues may be unresolved. They were highlighted in a letter from Congresssman Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), co-chairs of the Bi-Partisan Congressional Privacy Caucus, to Mark Zuckerberg. They questioned whether the company would have adequate procedures to ensure compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Erin Egan, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, responded, “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.”
- It could be that Facebook felt the public reaction was too much to overcome, or that it appeared too money grubbing given that the move would come shortly after the company saw a large drop in its stock price, which was described in one article on MSN Money as “slimy.”
- Another possible reason for lack of action on Facebook’s part could be that Facebook has decided an official change is unnecessary, particularly given that Consumer Reports estimates that 7.5 million users are under age 13. Another study, conducted by Microsoft, found that 36 percent of parents were aware that their children under the age of 13 had joined the social network, and many parents had in fact encouraged their kids to do so.
What Facebook decided to do about permitting tweens to join remains to be seen, as does the timing of their determination. For the time being, it seems like millions and millions of tweens will continue violating the Facebook policy, most with their parents’ blessing.
Guest post by Shannan Younger, who blogs on Chicago Tribune’s blog network, ChicagoNow.