Facebook considering accounts for children under 13

(Photo: Flickr/sc_association)

Nearly a decade after Facebook launched for students at select colleges nationwide, Facebook is reportedly considering allowing its youngest set of users ever.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the social network is considering allowing kids under the age of 13 to sign up for profiles under parental supervision.

The Journal says that kids are already lying about their age to set up accounts on Facebook, and the company still is trying to work out ways of enforcing parental supervision for its youngest potential users.

One such way would be to connect children's accounts to their parents' accounts.

Several reports suggest Facebook might allow children to control their account, but it would give the responsibility of managing apps and friend requests to their parents.

Mom Emma Lawler explains, "As long as I can see what he's doing, I'm fine with him being on long as I can see it."

In addition to making concerned parents happy, the move could be a way for Facebook to comply with federal regulations while making more money by charging for game apps.

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Just two weeks ago, Facebook began trading stock as a public company. Its stock price has fallen in part because of concerns about its ability to keep increasing revenue and make money from its growing mobile audience.

To James Steyer, the CEO of the nonprofit Common Sense Media, Facebook's discussions on permitting young kids to join is about expanding its audience - and profits.

"With the growing concerns and pressure around Facebook's business model, the company appears to be doing whatever it takes to identify new revenue streams and short-term corporate profits to impress spooked shareholders," Steyer said in a statement.

But Stephen Balkan, the CEO of another kids-and-technology nonprofit, the Family Online Safety Institute, disagrees.

Balkan, who sits on Facebook's Safety Advisory Board in an unpaid position, said the company has been discussing the issue for more than a year. That's months before Facebook made regulatory filings in February for its initial public offering of stock, which took place in mid-May.

"It has nothing to do with the IPO," he said.

Balkan offered some ideas about what Facebook could look like for kids. For one, the default setting to their account could be set to "friends only" so that strangers can't see their posts. Teenagers who are 13 to 17 currently have their accounts set to "friends of friends" by default, so the under-13 restriction would be a step beyond that.

Facebook could even keep advertising off kids' accounts, he added.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we see some movement from Facebook this before the end of the year," Balkan said. "By the way I think it would be a good thing if they do it right, rather than this untenable situation of just kicking off under-13s when they discover them."

Facebook's user base has progressively rolled out to younger users over the course of its history. In 2004, the site was only available to select colleges and students who had .edu email addresses. In September of 2005, though, the network rolled out a platform for high school students.

Finally, a year later, anyone over the age of 13 was allowed to join the site.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.