The June 2011 issue of Consumer Reports included an article that Facebook has more than 7.5 million children as users which apparently is violating the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) which precludes children under 13 from using websites and in particular to join Facebook. The Consumer Reports article stated that:
- Of the 20 million minors who actively used Facebook in the past year, 7.5 million—or more than one-third—were younger than 13 and not supposed to be able to use the site.
- Among young users, more than 5 million were 10 and under, and their accounts were largely unsupervised by their parents.
- One million children were harassed, threatened, or subjected to other forms of cyberbullying on the site in the past year.
These facts reinforce the fact that it is impossible to know who is actually using the Internet websites as highlighted by one of my most favorite New Yorker cartoons from 1993 where two dogs are sitting in front of a computer and one dog says to the other “On the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog.”
COPPA was enacted to protect children under 13, but if children under 13 lie about their age what is Facebook (or any other site) to do? This is a most perplexing problem and hopefully we can solve this problem to protect children.