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Facebook testing accounts for kids

SAN ANSELMO CA - MAY 09:  The Facebook website is displayed laptop computer May 9 2011 San Anselmo California.

SAN ANSELMO, CA - MAY 09: The Facebook website is displayed on a laptop computer on May 9, 2011 in San Anselmo, California. An investigation by The Pew Research Center found that Facebook has become a player in the news industry as the popular social media site is driving an increasing amount of traffic to news web sites. (Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) R:\Merlin\Getty_Photos\GYI0064657341.jpg

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Updated: July 7, 2012 8:25AM

Facebook is really going after the youth market.

In a move that might draw cheers from some kids but add another item to parents’ chronic to-do list, Facebook may allow kids under 13 to create accounts under parental supervision. Parents would be able to link their accounts to their children’s and control friend requests and third-party applications.

The plan, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, drew swift concern from privacy advocates and lawmakers. A federal law, Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), prohibits Internet companies from collecting personal information about children under 13 without verifiable parental consent, such as credit card information or a faxed signature.

“In developing this new technology, Facebook needs to proceed with an abundance of caution,” says Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), whose House subcommittee oversees consumer privacy. “Very strict privacy protocols must be in place before younger children are allowed on social-networking sites.”

Facebook declined to elaborate, but a company statement hinted that the technology will help parents proactively oversee children’s activities and discourage kids from lying about their birth date to sign up.

“Many recent reports have highlighted just how difficult it is to enforce age restrictions on the Internet, especially when parents want their children to access online content and services,” the company said.

“We are in continuous dialogue with stakeholders, regulators and other policymakers about how best to help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment.”

While Facebook rejects anyone under 13, it acknowledges that parents often help create accounts for their children.

The company might be attempting to get ahead of a regulatory battle brewing in Washington to enact more stringent rules on collection of personal data from minors, says Jason Schultz, a University of California-Berkeley professor who co-authored a study last year on minors’ use of Facebook.

COPPA addresses only collection of direct personal information, but federal regulators are reviewing possible additional limits on accumulating other identifiers, such as behavior profiles and Web-surfing habits, says Emma Llanso, policy counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Facebook has lobbied against such expansion.

Gannett News Service

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