Privacy, targeted advertising concerns compel lawmakers to query Facebook about possible plans to allow use of social network by children 12 and under
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Use of Facebook by children ages 12 and under raises serious questions about privacy and compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), wrote Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) in a letter sent today to Facebook. A story in the Wall Street Journal today reports Facebook is developing technology that would permit use of the site by children, a change to the company’s current policy and one that implicates the social networking site’s compliance with COPPA, the law meant to protect the privacy of children under 13 when they are online. Reps. Markey and Barton wrote to Facebook to learn more about the options the company is exploring to allow children 12 and younger to use the site, what data collection and sharing policies it is planning, and if the company plans to target advertising to child users.
We acknowledge that more and more children under the age of 13 are using Facebook, and this is a problem that needs to be addressed,” wrote Reps. Markey and Barton in the letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “While Facebook provides important communication and entertainment opportunities, we strongly believe that children and their personal information should not be viewed as a source of revenue.”
Text of the letter to Facebook can be found below.
Facebook’s latest revelation comes on the heels of the company’s recent initial public offering,  and its settlement in December 2011 with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over its privacy practices.
Reps. Markey and Barton, co-Chairmen of the Bi-Partisan Congressional Privacy Caucus have introduced the “Do Not Track Kids Act of 2011”, legislation that amends and updates COPPA to protect children and teens online in the 21st century. The Do Not Track Kids Act will extend, enhance and update the provisions related to collection, use and disclosure of children’s personal information.  The legislation will require consent from parents before companies collect information about children, prohibits targeted advertising to kids and teens, and ensures kids and teens 15 and younger have an eraser button to delete their personal information online.
Written in 1998, COPPA is the law that applies to operators of websites directed to children age 12 and younger that collect, use, or disclose personal information from children, or operators of general audience websites with actual knowledge they collect, use, or disclose personal information from children under 13.
As part of their widespread ongoing investigations into online data privacy and security practices, Reps. Markey and Barton have been the Congressional leaders working to get answers from Facebook on a series of recent privacy and security breaches. A timeline of their work can be found HERE.