Good Digital Parenting
Blog | Jan. 9, 2013

Why Do Kids Have to Be 13 to Join Facebook?

Founder & CEO, Family Online Safety Institute

That’s a question I get asked by a lot of parents. Is it the law? Or is it just a Facebook rule and the rule of many other social networking sites like Twitter, Tumblr, and even Gmail? 

Well, it’s a bit of both. The Child Online Privacy Protection Act or COPPA was passed into law way back in 1998 and took effect in 2000. It applies to websites and online services that collect personal information from children under the age of 13 and requires them to get parental permission to collect certain details about kids. 

So it is not against the law for sites like Facebook to provide services to young kids, but it would require social media sites to comply with COPPA, ie, get verifiable parental permission, in order to do so. Many social media sites have simply said in their Terms of Service that you must be 13 in order to join. 

Of course, this has led to large numbers of kids lying to get on Facebook. A Consumer Report study estimated there were 7.5 million underage kids on Facebook alone. In many cases, parents actively colluded with their younger children to get them an account. Facebook’s policy is that they will delete an underage account if they discover it and encourage users to report kids they know to be under 13. 

The reason this has been in the news recently is that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has just released their revised rulemaking on COPPA. They have tried to bring the rule up-to-date to deal with the explosion of social media sites, apps and the new ways in which ads and other marketing materials are delivered to kids. 

While much of the revisions are welcome, there are fears that some may well lead to a drop in sites, services and apps developed for the younger market. It would be a shame if only the large corporations had the ability and lawyers to comply with the new COPPA rule while the smaller app developers and sites steered away because of the cost of compliance. 

It remains to be seen how all of this will play out. You may well see changes in the sites your kid’s access or be asked for verifiable permission in new forms. In the meantime, keep the conversation going in your own household about what age is appropriate for your kids to join social networking sites, download apps and play online games. 

Photo courtesy of Flickr.