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Survey: Parents lie to help preteens get on Facebook

Facebook
Millions of kids under the age of 13 have signed up for Facebook.

And their parents helped them lie to do it.

That's the conclusion of a new survey from Microsoft and university researchers.

Facebook sets the minimum age for using its service at 13 to comply with federal laws that shield children's online privacy. But parents help preteens get around the age limit so they can interact online with relatives and friends.

The survey found that more than half of all parents with 12-year-olds and 1 in 5 parents of 10-year-olds knew their kids were using Facebook. Nearly 7 in 10 parents admitted they helped their kids set up the accounts. Consumer Reports had previously reported that 7 million underage users were on Facebook.

"'At what age should I let my child join Facebook?' This is a question that countless parents have asked my collaborators and me. Often, it's followed by the following: 'I know that 13 is the minimum age to join Facebook, but is it really so bad that my 12-year-old is on the site?' " Danah Boyd wrote.

Boyd, a senior researcher with Microsoft Research, teamed up with Eszter Hargittai from Northwestern University, Jason Schultz from UC Berkeley and John Palfrey from Harvard to take a closer look at the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, COPPA, which restricts websites from collecting information from kids under the age of 13. 

Regulators are considering updating COPPAto reflect the new era of social networks and smartphone apps. Last month, the Federal Trade Commission proposed tougher privacy protections for children younger than 13, broadening requirements covering the collection of personal information by websites and online apps, as well as how they obtain parental approval.

Boyd says the researchers wanted to find out if COPPA "empowered" parents. The survey drew from a random sampling of 1,007 parents with children ages 10 to 14.

"The status quo is not working if large numbers of parents are helping their children lie to get access to online services," Boyd said.

That conclusion didn't sit well with privacy watchdogs who say parents are not aware of the reams of data websites like Facebook collect about their kids, said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

"This was corporate-funded research aimed at undermining the FTC's upcoming decision that will expand COPPA safeguards to include mobile and behavioral targeting," Chester said.

RELATED:

Tougher preteen privacy rules urged

Facebook looks to cash in on user data

Profile: Andrew Bosworth, Facebook social engineer

-- Jessica Guynn

Photo: Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg shows off the social network's new "time line" feature at its annual developers conference in San Francisco in September. Photo credit: David Paul Morris / Bloomberg.

 

 
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