WASHINGTON – In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, a coalition of consumer, privacy, health and child advocacy groups called on the company to provide strong privacy and marketing safeguards for children if it proceeds with reported plans to open the social-networking service to kids under 13.
The groups want assurances from Facebook that any space for pre-teens will be safe, parent-supervised and parent-controlled, with no advertising and no collection of children’s personal information for marketing purposes.
“The pre-teen experience on Facebook should be ad-free in its entirety,” the groups wrote.
The letter was signed by Consumers Union, the Center for Digital Democracy, the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Center for Media Justice, Center for Science in the Public Interest, ChangeLab Solutions/Public Health Law & Policy, Children Now, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Watchdog, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Privacy Times, Public Citizen, and World Privacy Forum.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Facebook was exploring ways to allow children under 13 to access the site under parental supervision.
In their letter to Zuckerberg, the groups cited a recent survey by Consumer Reports, which projected that more than 5.6 million children under the age of 13 already have Facebook accounts, in violation of Facebook’s current policy of barring pre-teens from the site. Once children have registered for Facebook accounts with false birthdays, the site treats them as teens or adults, depending on their stated age, and subjects them to the same data collection and marketing practices used to target older users.
The groups said they are glad the company is reportedly trying to address the problem of underage kids on the site. But they said Facebook should not collect children’s information to show them ads, expose them to social media marketing practices, or analyze and track their activity using social analytics for commercial purposes.
The groups recommended a list of safeguards that they believed must be incorporated into any Facebook initiative to allow pre-teens on the social network.
For instance, pre-teens whose parents are on Facebook accounts should be required to link their accounts to their parents’ accounts, and parents without Facebook accounts must be provided simple tools to monitor and pre-approve their child’s activities, the groups said.