Skip to main content

Reps. Seek Info on Facebook Considering Allowing Younger Users

Facebook has some explaining to do to lawmakers, or at least
that is the view from Capitol Hill on reports that the social network
powerhouse was exploring ways to let kids under 13 use the site with their
parent's permission.

Currently, those kids are not supposed to be using the site,
though by most accounts, millions do anyway.

One of those concerned lawmakers is Rep. Ed Markey
(D-Mass.), co-sponsor of the kids online do-not-track information, who joined
with his co-sponsor Joe Barton (R-Texas) -- together they co-chair the
Congressional Privacy Caucus -- to send a letter to Facebook Monday citing
concerns about privacy and targeted advertising.

"We acknowledge that more and more children under the age of
13 are using Facebook, and this is a problem that needs to be addressed," wrote
Markey and Barton in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. "However, we
believe strongly that children and their personal information should not be
viewed as a commodity to be bought and sold to the highest bidder."

Among their concerns are how the move would jive with the
Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (which Markey spearheaded, and which
the kids do-not-track bill would update). They want an answer to a number of
questions (see below) by June 25.

The full text of the letter follows.

Mr. Mark Zuckerberg
Founder & Chief Executive Officer
1601 S. California Avenue
Palo Alto, CA 94304

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg:

According to a June 3, 2012, Wall Street Journal article
("Facebook Explores Giving Kids Access"), Facebook is developing technology to
permit children ages 12 and younger to use the social-networking website. 
The news story explains that the company is now testing mechanisms that would
connect "children's accounts to their parents' and controls that would allow
parents to decide whom their kids can ‘friend' and what applications they can
use."  This potential change would subject the company to the Children's
Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a law that protects this vulnerable age
group by providing parents with tools to control the information web sites
collect about their children and block access to such information.

Permitting children under 13 to use the social networking
site raises a number of important questions about how Facebook would comply
with COPPA.  The law applies to operators of websites directed to children
age 12 and younger that collect, use, or disclose personal information from
children or operators of general audience websites with actual knowledge they
collect, use, or disclose personal information from children under 13. 
Among many requirements, COPPA requires these operators to notify parents and
obtain consent from them before collecting personal information from
children.  Operators also are prohibited from disclosing this information
to third parties.

The potential changes being discussed by Facebook come just
weeks after Facebook's initial public offering.  The Journal article
reports that "Concerns have been growing over Facebook's ability to sustain the
88% revenue growth it achieved last year via advertising."  The article
reports that permitting this age group to use Facebook would allow the company
to "tap a new pool of users for revenue;" "target a fast-growing market for
children's games;" and "enable Facebook and its partners to charge parents for
games and other entertainment access by their children."

We acknowledge that more and more children under the age of
13 are using Facebook and this is a problem that needs to be addressed. 
While Facebook provides important communication and entertainment
opportunities, we strongly believe that children and their personal information
should not be viewed as a source of revenue.

Facebook's efforts to expand its reach to children 12 years
old and younger come only months after the company reached a settlement
agreement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  The FTC had alleged
that Facebook deceived users by informing them they could keep their
information on Facebook private but then repeatedly allowed the information to
be shared and made public.  The settlement requires Facebook to provide
consumers clear and prominent notice and obtain consumers' express consent
before their information is shared beyond previously established privacy
settings as well as initiates regular, independent privacy audits of the
company for the next 20 years.[1]

Accordingly, as co-Chairmen of the Congressional Bi-Partisan
Privacy Caucus, we are deeply concerned that the changes discussed by Facebook
could potentially have a harmful impact on our children.  We request
responses to the following questions:

What options is Facebook exploring to allow
children age 12 and younger to use the social networking site?  Please
explain all options, including whether the company has considered allowing kids
ages 12 and younger to use the current site, with modifications, or to establish
an entirely separate website for that age group.

Is Facebook planning to mandate consent from a
child or their parent before the company collects, uses, or discloses personal
information about kids ages 12 and younger?  How does Facebook plan to obtain
this consent?  How will Facebook verify that a user is indeed a parent?

What specific information does Facebook
contemplate collecting about children age 12 and younger?

How does Facebook plan to use information the
company collects about children in this age group?  Does Facebook plan to
disclose or sell that information to its partners and other third parties?

Does Facebook plan to target advertisements at
children age 12 and younger?  What marketing safeguards does Facebook plan
to put in place for this age group?

Does Facebook plan to provide an "eraser button"
to allow kids under 13 or their parents to erase information they no longer
want to be posted online?

How does Facebook plan to ensure compliance with

What additional privacy controls will be added
to protect children 12 and under? Does Facebook plan to set the user controls
to the highest setting by default? If not, why not?

As Facebook develops new technologies to allow
children 12 and under to utilize the site, has any consideration been made to
incorporate "Do-Not-Track."

What type of controls will be given to a parent
to monitor the activity of their children while on Facebook?

Who will Facebook consider as the primary user:
the parent or the child? If not the parent, why not?

How is Facebook planning to conduct the
transition of a child's profile when he/she reaches the age of 13? Will the
parent be notified of any changes and given any authorities?

Does Facebook plan to create a family account?
If so, would there be any limits as to how many children, in one family, under
the age of 13 could join?

With an increase in cell phone usage, how does
Facebook plan to give parents control across multiple platforms?


Edward J. Markey                                                            Joe Barton
Co-Chairman                                                                      Co-Chairman
Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus              Congressional
Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus