[iDC] Why Parents Help Children Violate Facebook’s 13+ Rule

danah boyd zephoria at zephoria.org
Tue Nov 1 14:31:39 UTC 2011

I know that many of you believe that COPPA is intended to curb the practices of companies, but it has serious unintended consequences that affect parenting, education, free speech, and children's rights.  For that reason, I want to share a new study that I've been working on has serious policy implications that affect every aspect of internet studies.  For those who don't know anything about COPPA, it's the U.S. legislation that prompts most major U.S. companies to make their websites 13+.  The regulation is currently being reviewed by the Federal Trade Commission (and they're seeking public comments by Nov 28 so if any of you are interested, please let me know!).

Anyhow, I'm really excited about this study and I hope you will be too!

Title: "Why Parents Help Their Children Lie to Facebook About Age: Unintended Consequences of the 'Children's Online Privacy Protection Act'" 
Authors: danah boyd (Microsoft Research/NYU), Eszter Hargittai (Northwestern), Jason Schultz (UC-Berkeley), and John Palfrey (Harvard) 
Full article: http://bit.ly/ParentSurveyCOPPA

danah's blog post: http://bit.ly/tgKZrE
Huffington Post op-ed: http://huff.to/rVocz5
CNet Coverage: http://cnet.co/tnNPw1


A major new nationwide study released today shows that many parents know that their underage children are on Facebook in violation of the site's restrictions.  Parents are often complicit in helping their children join the site.   These new data suggest that, by creating a context in which companies choose to restrict access to children, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which is currently under review, inadvertently undermines parents' ability to make choices and protect their children's data.  This study has significant implications for policy makers, particularly in light of the discussion in Congress and at the Federal Trade Commission about COPPA and other age-based privacy laws.  Based on a national sample of 1,007 U.S. parents who have children living with them between the ages of 10-14, this survey conducted July 5-14, 2011 found:

• Although Facebook's minimum age is 13, parents of 13- and 14-year-olds report that, on average, their child joined Facebook at age 12.
• Half (55%) of parents of 12-year-olds report their child has a Facebook account, and most (82%) of these parents knew when their child signed up.  Most (76%) also assisted their 12-year old in creating the account.
• A third (36%) of all parents surveyed reported that their child joined Facebook before the age of 13, and two-thirds of them (68%) helped their child create the account.
• Half (53%) of parents surveyed think Facebook has a minimum age and a third (35%) of these parents think that this is a recommendation and not a requirement.
• Most (78%) parents think it is acceptable for their child to violate minimum age restrictions on online services.

The authors argue that these data call into question the efficacy of COPPA. Their findings have important implications for COPPA reform and other age-based legislation, such as the "Do Not Track Kids Act" currently being discussed in Congress:

• COPPA is well intended but has major unintended consequences in terms of encouraging general-purpose websites like Facebook, Skype, and Gmail to limit kids under 13 from accessing educational and social opportunities.
• Age-based restrictions imposed in response to COPPA undermine parental authority and limit parents' freedoms to make choices about what their children do and what information is collected about them. 
• As a result of COPPA, lying about one's age has become normal and parents often help children lie. This 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.

The implications of this study go beyond issues of governance.  The age restrictions engendered by COPPA have serious implications for parenting, education, and issues surrounding children's rights.  To learn more, view the complete article at http://bit.ly/ParentSurveyCOPPA


"taken out of context, i must seem so strange" -- ani

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