Why Facebook Is After Your Kids
By EMILY BAZELON October 12, 2011
In May, Consumer Reports announced that 7.5 million kids age 12 and younger are on Facebook. The magazine called this "troubling news," in no small part because their presence is at odds with federal law, which bars Web sites from collecting personal data about kids under13 without permission from their parents. "Clearly, using Facebook presents children and their friends and families with safety, security and privacy risks," Consumer Reports concluded.
Within weeks of the Consumer Reports news, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, called for challenging the 1998 Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (Coppa), which prevents Facebook from signing up young kids legally. "That will be a fight we take on at some point," Zuckerberg said at the NewSchools Summit in California. And indeed, with the Federal Trade Commission poised to tighten Coppa's regulations, Facebook has tripled its spending on lobbying, formed a political action committee and hired former Bush and Obama officials to push for its agenda.
We don't really know yet how joining Facebook at a tender age affects kids socially and emotionally. There's the fun and freedom of Facebook, and then there's the Consumer Reports finding that the site exposed a million teenagers to bullying and harassment last year. What is clear is that Facebook thinks it needs access to kids' lives in order to continue to dominate its industry. The younger the child, the greater the opportunity to build brand loyalty that might transcend the next social-media trend. And crucially, signing up kids early can accustom them to "sharing" with the big audiences that are at their small fingertips.