Facebook is facing criticism from US politicians after reports the company is exploring ways to let children under 13 onto its social network.
The co-chairmen of the Bi-Partisan Congressional Privacy Caucus, Joe Barton and Edward Markey, have sent a letter to the chief executive of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, asking him to provide details on the company’s plans for allowing access to children younger than 13, who fall under stricter regulations regarding online privacy.
It is understood the company has not made a final decision on whether or how to give them access.
”We strongly believe that children and their personal information should not be viewed as a source of revenue,” the representatives wrote in the letter. ”We are deeply concerned that the changes discussed by Facebook could potentially have a harmful impact on our children.”
Children under 13 are protected by the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires websites to notify parents and obtain their consent before collecting personal data from minors.
Complying with this law while opening Facebook’s service to younger users could create technical challenges, said Jeff Chester, the executive director of the Centre for Digital Democracy, a Washington privacy group.
”Facebook can’t simply get a parent to say OK and have children face a slew of viral marketing and ad campaigns,” Mr Chester said. ”If Facebook is to serve children, they have to create a state-of-the-art system to protect their privacy.”
Many children are already using the site, and Facebook said it was looking for ways to help keep them safe. In May last year, Consumer Reports said a survey showed Facebook had 7.5 million users who were younger than 13 in 2010, in violation of the website’s policies. More than 5 million of the users were under 11, the watchdog group said.
”We are in continuous dialogue with … policymakers about how best to help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment,” Facebook said in an emailed statement.