Laura Pevehouse Thomas

Would You Encourage Your Child Break the Law?


On first look, the headline of this post may seem like a black & white answer, but it’s really a loaded question according to some of the latest research released by social media scholar, youth researcher & advocate danah boyd.
Unintended consequences of the ‘Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act

The recent release of  “Unintended consequences of the ‘Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act‘” by boyd, Eszter Hargittai, Jason Schultz and John Palfrey generated a lot of interest.

The blog All Facebook said that doing so was maybe “not as bad as parents buying beer for their kids under age 21 or cigarettes for those under 18,” but all three do require parents displaying a lack of respect for rules to the children they expect to follow their rules.

One commenter on that blog asked “how else are they going to stay in touch with their friends in this digital age?” Several others felt it was OK if they were actively monitoring their child’s site and had the account password (as if that couldn’t be changed when the kid decided to lock mom out).

But another raised a great point: “While I know that it seems safe to have a child on facebook and parents say they are monitoring their childs FB …I don’t know how many are ACTUALLY doing it. Or how many know how to effectively protect their child on facebook.”

This one, however, is the comment I think gets back to how grey the answer is to the seemingly black & white question I posed: “I have never thought about if i would break similar age rules in other areas. In almost every other area i would never even think about breaking the rules. Interesting why it’s ok with me with facebook… ”

So what rule is being broken? Well, there are really a couple of them. First is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) mentioned in the research. This Act became effective back in April 2000 and is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.
It basically says that if a website has visitors under 13 and collects any information from them it must use “reasonable procedures” to ensure they are getting permission from the child’s parent. These procedures may include:

  • obtaining a signed form from the parent via postal mail or facsimile;
  • accepting and verifying a credit card number;
  • taking calls from parents on a toll-free telephone number staffed by trained personnel;
  • email accompanied by digital signature;
  • email accompanied by a PIN or password obtained through one of the verification methods above.

All of those, however, require a certain amount of administration and personnel to manage that many social media outlets do not have or want to hire to make sure all the kids under 13 have parental permission. That’s why sites like Facebook simply say they don’t allow anyone under 13 on them.

And that is the second rule being deliberately broken by 68 percent of those surveyed in the research that reported their child joined Facebook before the age of 13.

It’s worth noting that this research was supported by Microsoft Research. This gives Digital Democracy the feeling that “this study is an industry-funded attack against the current FTC proceedings that will ensure that children cannot be targeted via mobile and location data services or be the victims of companies engaged in behavioral targeting.”

But, whether you are for or against COPPA, the fact that half (55%) of parents of 12-year-olds reported their child has a Facebook account, most (82%) knew when their child signed up, and most (76%) also assisted their 12-year old in creating the account should make you stop and ponder.

My own nine-year-old girl has friends who already have Facebook pages, so I’ve faced the request join those numbers. My stance is that the rule is 13, so not until she’s 13. Not to cast any stones at others, but simply because I want to set an example for her to follow rules.

Even though that’s my current position, we’ve still already had frequent talks about what she should or shouldn’t share online. Those who remember when the two of us were touring kids virtual worlds will know why. Although many protections are in place and as much as I try to monitor (like many parents of young Facebookers), I know I can’t always be there, so talking early and often is my plan.

What’s your plan for preparing your kids for online interactions? All suggestions welcome!

5 comments on “Would You Encourage Your Child Break the Law?

  1. Totally agree, and good for you sticking by your guns. My reasoning is exactly the same: If Facebook had rules in place that made it ok, then I’d be fine signing the kids up earlier. But if I expect my kids to obey my rules, I need to show them that I will obey the rules put in place for me and them by others. I have a really hard time not getting preachy about it with my friends actually. I know many who have started accounts for their infants they they run of course – but my question is when does the child get to take that account over for themselves? That’s why I just setup a fan page for my boys. Gives me the same practical use, but allows me to let grandparents and others post content there as well – actually an advantage.

    The interesting part about this to me is how different social media sites vary. Facebook makes a very big deal out of 13 being the rule. Twitter, Blogger, and Google have either no such restrictions or are far less concerned with it. Thus my 2 year old and 9 month old both have Twitter, Blogger, and G+ accounts so that I could squat the good usernames. As a result they’ll be on those services far before FB. I’ll be very curious how this will affect their eventual use and adoption of the various social sites (not to mention that landscape is likely to change a lot over the next 10 years anyway).

  2. Interestingly I just went to fact-check my own statements. Apparently Google has gotten more strict about their age requirements. I didn’t lie about my boy’s birthdays when signing them up, and they both have gmail accounts (thus G+). But now they’re enforcing COPA more strictly. I’m sure it’s because G+ is making it more necessary. Before it was just for email and a customized home screen – now it’s for a social site.

  3. It all gets a bit fuzzy, I think because it depends on how much information you collect. The rules I find say:

    “If you operate a commercial Web site or an online service directed to children under 13 that collects personal information from children or if you operate a general audience Web site and have actual knowledge that you are collecting personal information from children, you must comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.”

    So maybe twitter doesn’t collect what would be considered PII? No address or phone number or anything like that needed to create account…

  4. Pingback: LPT » Blog Archive » Under 13? No Tumblr for You!

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