Is Facebook developing special accounts for under-13s?

5 Jun 2012

Facebook is developing technology to allow children under the age of 13 to join the social network, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The rumoured development could mean special accounts that come with parental supervision and controls, so parents can decide who their children connect with and what apps they use on the site.

Facebook’s current policy will not allow someone under 13 to create an account, but this obstacle is easily sidestepped by a child savvy enough to lie about their age to gain access. In fact, some parents of under-agers are aware of this and have even helped their children to set up accounts.

Though the social network goes to greater lengths than this to monitor accounts and flush out the preteens, the fact remains children under 13 are accessing the site and where there’s a will, there’s a way.

More users, more problems

Creating specialised accounts for children could be the best move to counteract this issue. By legitimising children’s use of the site, Facebook can better regulate it. However, babysitting costs money, and children’s accounts will be an expensive add-on to the service requiring round-the-clock moderation.

Facebook’s adult members already worry about how their details are used and protected by the site and these concerns will be magnified when it comes to kids. Facebook will have to carefully consider what data it gathers from these accounts and protection will be of the utmost importance.

Add to that fears over cyberbullying and the dangers of letting your children engage with people online, and you can imagine the kind of minefield Facebook could be stepping into with this move.

What Facebook stands to gain

All of this sounds like an awful lot of effort to go to, so what’s in it for Facebook? Well, as long as children continue to sneak onto the site with falsified information, Facebook’s data is compromised. Demographic statistics are skewed by dishonesty and this can have a detrimental effect on Facebook’s advertising strategy. By cutting out the liars, the social network can regain more confidence in its data.

To avoid controversy, Facebook likely won’t advertise on kids’ accounts, but it can advertise to their parents, and these connected accounts can provide significant revenue potential.

Parents can be targeted with advertising from products and brands that their kids have ‘liked’ on the site, especially as birthdays come near. What’s more, as the popularity of children’s games grows on Android and iOS, Facebook can finally tap into this market and charge parents for their children’s entertainment.

Image of Facebook via Shutterstock

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.