20/09/2012 – 11:30 AM
Washington DC / Baltimore. – Facebook has a somewhat ugly little secret, something not revealed in any part of the voluminous files that filed to become a publicly traded company.
An estimated 5.6 million Facebook users, equivalent to about 3.5 percent of the total in the U.S., are children which the company says are not permitted access to the site.
Facebook and many other web pages prohibiting access to children under 13 because the Law Online Privacy Protection of Children (COPPA, for its acronym in English) websites requires special treatment for children 12 or younger .
The law aims to vendors stop meddling in children’s personal information or use your data for advertising. Sites should have the parental consent before allowing children access, and must take measures to protect privacy.
Facebook refuses to recognize that many of their efforts to block the access of children are not working.
The issue has regained relevance as the Federal Trade Commission of the United States refines new rules to further restrict the companies and websites that have young people as a target audience.
Facebook, the world’s leading social network with 955 million users, has said that the law did not apply because they explicitly restrict the use of your site to young people from 13 years.
Facebook has made some progress in identifying and tweens Site has excluded. June Consumer Reports study showed that Facebook removed a year to 800,000 users under 13 through a tiered selection process, which the company refused to describe.
The study estimates that there are still 5.6 million children in Facebook, a figure that some experts say includes many who create accounts with the help of their parents.
The study data come from a survey conducted in January this year to 2002 adults with Internet access at home. Participants were chosen by TNS, a research firm. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.
“It is not surprising for us to see young people under 12 years who are on Facebook to sneak” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, adding that the situation was “particularly difficult” if parents helped them. “Is it disturbing? In a way it is. Is it a black and white story? Actually no.”
A test conducted by Reuters to register for Facebook shows that a child could avoid detection characteristics of the site with relative ease. The site effectively blocked a dummy record of a user who did not have the required age. But after an hour of waiting, finally accepted the record using the same name, email address, password and birthday but putting a different birth year.
Facebook declined to discuss details or describe their efforts to prohibit access to children. Frederic Wolens spokesman said in an email that Facebook “is committed to improving the online protection of all young people.”
Larry Magid, part of the advisory board of Facebook and co-leads the group of Internet Connect Safely, said he and others studied the issue for a year and found no way to know if the children were lying on the network.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, an outspoken privacy advocate whose youngest child is 18, said the vulnerability of children to sexual predators and potential susceptibility to advertising were reasons to keep under 12 away from most web page. “Our children were not on Facebook at that age, and not have to be now,” he said.
Facebook now has 158 million users in the U.S., according to figures from May to comScore. If the site more effectively prohibits access by children, could lose about 3.5 percent of its market.
Ironically, one of the reasons that make the process easier selection of Facebook is the law passed to protect children. COPPA prohibits companies save most data on children.
The FTC has said it would view with skepticism to the companies that keep names or email addresses of children even if the data simply help to prevent children from accessing the sites