NEW YORK – Though Facebook bans children under 13, millions of them have profiles on the site by lying about their age.
The company is now testing ways to allow those kids to participate without needing to lie. This would likely be under parental supervision, such as by connecting children’s accounts to their parents’ accounts.
Like many other online services, Facebook prohibits kids under 13 because federal law requires companies to obtain parental consent if they want to collect information about those children.
Such information collection is central to Facebook. Every photo or status update a kid posts on Facebook could count as information collection. Many companies consider the parental-consent requirement too burdensome, so they simply ban all children under 13 instead.
But that ban is difficult to enforce. In many cases, parents themselves help children skirt it by setting up profiles for them and lying about their ages. There are an estimated 7.5 million kids under 13 on Facebook, out of more than 900 million users worldwide.
In a statement, Facebook noted that many recent reports have highlighted “just how difficult it is to enforce age restrictions on the Internet, especially when parents want their children to access online content and services.”
“We are in continuous dialogue with stakeholders, regulators and other policymakers about how best to help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment,” the company said.
Few details are available on the nature of Facebook’s tests, which The Wall Street Journal reported on in Monday’s editions. Relaxing the ban on younger children could be a long way off, or never get implemented.
The report comes just two weeks after Facebook began trading 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.
On Monday, Facebook shares fell 3 percent and closed at a new low. Shares slid 82 cents to close at $26.90, after briefly trading as low as $26.44. The previous low for the closing price was $27.72.