Facebook, like many communication services and social media sites, uses its Terms of Service (ToS) to forbid children under the age of 13 from creating an account.
Such prohibitions are not uncommon in response to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which seeks to empower parents by requiring commercial Web site operators to obtain parental consent before collecting data from children under 13.
Given economic costs, social concerns,and technical issues, most general–purpose sites opt to restrict underage access through their ToS. Yet in spite of such restrictions, research suggests that millions of underage users circumvent this rule and sign up for accounts on Facebook.
Given strong evidence of parental concern about children’s online activity, this raises questions of whether or not parents understand ToS restrictions for children, how they view children’s practices of circumventing age restrictions, and how they feel about children’s access being regulated.
This paper provides survey data that show that many parents know that their underage children are on Facebook in violation of the site’s restrictions and that they are often complicit in helping their children join the site.
The data suggest that, by creating a context in which companies choose to restrict access to children, COPPA inadvertently undermines parents’ ability to make choices and protect their children’s data. Our data have significant implications for policy–makers, particularly in light of ongoing discussions surrounding COPPA and other age–based privacy.
A few takeaways:
- “As a result of COPPA, lying about one’s age has become normal, and parents often help children lie, [which] creates safety and privacy issues.”
- “Online safety and privacy are of great concern to parents, but most parents do not want solutions that result in age-based restrictions for their children.”
- “Parents are open to recommended age ratings and other approaches that offer guidance without limiting their children’s access.”
- 84% were aware their children signed up and, of that 84%, nearly two-thirds (64%) even “helped create the account.
- 53% of the parents know Facebook has a minimum age; 35% think it’s “a recommendation, not a requirement”
- 78% reported various reasons that make it acceptable for their children to ignore or violate minimum age restrictions online.”
- “Because children lie about their age, these sites still collect data about children under 13 that COPPA would otherwise prohibit without explicit parental consent.”
- “Such a high incidence of parent-supported Terms of Service circumvention results in a normalization of the practice of violating online rules. This results in a worst-case scenario where none of COPPA’s public policy goals for mediating children’s interactions with these websites are met.”
- “Instead of providing more tools to help parents and their children make informed choices, industry responses to COPPA have neglected parental preferences and have altogether restricted what is available for children to access.”