Facebook CEO's worst idea to date: Profiles for under-13's

Summary:Mark Zuckerberg in a speech said under-13's should be allowed on Facebook. Is this the most irresponsible statement from the company to date?

Perhaps in Mark Zuckerberg's most irresponsible idea to date, he stated in a speech in California this week that children under the age of 13 should be allowed on Facebook, the world's largest social network.

In the speech, he said:

"My philosophy is that for education you need to start at a really, really young age. Because of the restrictions we haven’t even begun this learning process. . . . If they’re lifted, then we’d start to learn what works. We’d take a lot of precautions to make sure that they [younger kids] are safe."

Considering there have been so many lapses in security, privacy and data-stealing applications on the site affecting tens of millions of users if not more, I cannot see for one second how Facebook is protecting even a minority of its users.

Though 7.5 million children under the age of 13 are on the site -- with a reported majority of that under the age of 11 -- Facebook should be spending its time removing them from potential harm's way instead of encouraging them to start an account or continue as existing users.

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) does not allow the collection or retention of data held on anyone under the age of 13. Facebook's terms and conditions currently state that under-13's are not allowed on the site. Yet, a simple age deception at the sign up process can allow anyone under the age of 13 to sign up without any extensive checks on the data they have submitted.

Accounts which are found to be of children under the age of 13 are cut off immediately, but it does not solve the problem altogether.

Considering the gross neglect that the company has continued to apply to its users, I am strongly against any child -- regardless of whether they are over the age of 13 or not -- to be on Facebook. In fact, I would even go as far to say that parents who do allow their child, particularly under the age of 13, are not effectively protecting their children from the dangers of submitting so much information to the social network.

I have argued before that today's younger generation are not 'lacking in experience', and if anything are becoming more adept to the adult world faster than before -- primarily through means of Facebook and fragile social relationships.

But nevertheless, in my eyes, it is socially irresponsible for Facebook to advocate children under the age of 13, who are already increasingly handing over personal data for which under law have effectively little right in handing over, and are not legally responsible to make such decisions yet.

While Facebook does make a clear and concerted effort in protecting children 13 and over, by implementing technologies to reduce and remove child abuse imagery, it is highly unethical to encourage children under the age of 13 to sign up to a service for which may not understand the consequences of their actions, and the long-term implications of their actions.

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Topics: Social Enterprise, Collaboration

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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