Facebook and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act
The 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), in a bid to protect the privacy and safety of younger netizens, requires that minors aged 13 or younger gain explicit parental consent to access commercial websites. Many sites such as Facebook and YouTube, however, have chosen to avoid any potential conflicts with the law by banning such younger visitors altogether, though this restriction is easily circumvented during the registration process. To what extent is COPPA circumvented on Facebook, and by whom — parents or children?
More than three-quarters (76%) of parents surveyed reported that their child joined Facebook when she was younger than 13, the minimum age in the site’s terms of service.
Parents have become more actively involved in assisting their children sign up for Facebook access, and at younger ages. For instance, 2008, parents assisted their 11-year-old children to access Facebook 47% of the time, while in 2010, parents assisted their 9-year-old children 78% of the time.
Only 53% of parents said they were aware that Facebook has a minimum signup age; 35% of these parents believe that the minimum age is a site recommendation (not a condition of site use), or thought the signup age was 16 or 18, and not 13.
Eighty-nine percent of parents approve of a minimum age for Facebook participation; however, suggestions for an appropriate minimum age range from 11 to 18.
Additionally, 78% of parents think it is acceptable for their child to violate minimum age restrictions on online services. Reasons given for violating Facebook terms of service include facilitating communications with parents, other family members, and friends, the educational value of using the program, and the sense that parents, not legislators or software, should have the final say on what software children have access too, and when.
The researchers conclude, “The online industry’s response to COPPA’s under-13 rule and verifiable parental consent model is largely proving incompatible, and at times, antithetical to many parents’ ideas of how to help their children navigate the online world.”