Recently, Facebook announced that they have created a patent which would allow children under the age of 13 to join Facebook, if their information can be matched to the Facebook accounts of their parents. As of now, Facebook limits children under 13 from registering an account. Legislation known as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) limits how a website operator has to protect children’s privacy and safety, thus restricting the activity of children under 13 on most websites. In complying with this legislation, most websites have disallowed children from using their website because of the amount of work involved.
The patent, which complies with COPPA would allow a system for children under the age of 13 to join Facebook under their parent’s supervision. Facebook released a statement to The Guardian stating, “Like any responsible company, we have looked at ways to tackle this issue, but a patent application based on two year old research is not a predictor of future work in this area.”
The patent application was filed in November of 2012 and was recently published by the USPTO last week which described a system in which parents can “authorize and supervise Facebook accounts for their children”. In order for the child to activate their account, the parents would need to verify their own identity on Facebook first. Then parents would have the control to restrict how their children used Facebook, which would include restricting the use of certain third party items, like Candy Crush.
By allowing Facebook to verify the parents of children on Facebook it complies with COPPA and would result in a better system of parent oversight, as many pre-teens are already Facebook users, with or without parental consent. Although Facebook does attempt to remove children under the age of 13, according to Consumer Reports there are approximately 5.6 million underage accounts on Facebook. This patent system effectively allows parents to better monitor their children on Facebook and allows children to also become active members of the internet community. While some groups say that there are harmful effects for children on social media sites, other advocacy groups believe that introducing children to the internet community can be a resource to them, so long as it is used safely.