Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) has had a policy since its inception to not allow children under age 13 to create profiles and use the social-networking site, and has been claiming that it has been working to remain compliant with various federal and foreign privacy laws when they pertain to youth.
But now, in an interview, a Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) pulled a Lance (Armstrong) and finally came clean, admitting that the company really doesn't have the ability to prevent young users from accessing and making profiles.
A story in the U.K. this week brings out this information, and the Facebook Inc. (NASDA:FB) policy chief for the U.K. and Ireland admitted that while the company has rules that prohibit young people from making profiles and from being potentially exposed to dangerous content, online stalkers and bullies, the company really has very few ways to enforce the rules.
"We haven't got a mechanism for eradicating the problem [of underage users]," said Simon Milner, the Facebook U.K and Ireland policy head, as there is an estimate that about one-third of 9- to 12-year-olds in the U.K. have active Facebook profiles. "I am very well aware of the research that a lot of 11 and 12-year-olds and younger have Facebook accounts and lie about their age [during the online signup process] … and that in some cases parents actively help. In that environment it is increasingly difficult to know what to do. You can't make everyone prove their age … that would get privacy advocates up in arms."
"I would assume that [one-third figure] is going up and would assume younger children are also having profiles," said Sonia Livingstone, a professor at the London School of Economics. "If parents would only say to young children, 'don't go on Facebook', we have found that they listen. Teenagers don't, but younger children do."
Is Facebook listening?