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June 19, 2012

Watchdogs ask Facebook to protect pre-teens from advertisers

Plea comes after reports the site was going to open membership to under 13s

By Tineka Smith

Children on Facebook
Photo Credit: Photark

A group of consumer, privacy and child advocacy groups have asked the social network to provide solid privacy and marketing security measures if it proceeds with reportedly opening the service to children under the age of 13.

In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the group asked for assurances that the social site will be safe, parent-controlled and free of advertising.

"Safeguards need to be put in place to address information that Facebook collects when the user is logged in, off-site, and lands on a page with a Facebook button on it," the group wrote.

"Children and their network of friends should not be subject to behavioural or personalized marketing efforts."

The group has also asked that children’s personal data will not be collected from Facebook for marketing purposes, which the site is known to do with its current members.

"The pre-teen experience on Facebook should be ad-free in its entirety," the groups wrote.

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The letter comes after the Wall Street Journal wrote an article about Facebook making plans to allow access to its site for children under the age of 13. Facebook did not confirm or deny claims in the report.

"We urge Facebook to forgo collecting or using pre-teens’ information to show them ads, expose them to social media marketing practices, or analyze and track their activity using social analytics for commercial purposes," the group wrote.

In a recent survey by Consumer Reports, more than 5.6 million children under 13 were estimated to already have Facebook accounts.

Facebook’s policy currently does not allow pre-teens to access the site but many children are able to register using fake birthdays.

"Research shows that children often have a difficult time differentiating between advertising and other media content, especially in the digital context," the group wrote. "Children should be allowed to "Like" a company or product on Facebook, with their parents’ consent. But that information should not then be used to target that child with ads, nor should it be used to conduct social media marketing, in order to convince the child’s friends to also interact with the product or company."

The group suggests that pre-teens who sign up for Facebook accounts should be required to link their account to their parents. If the parents do not have a Facebook account they should be able to monitor their children’s interactions in other ways.

The letter was signed by 15 groups some of which include the Consumers Union, Center for Digital Democracy, Center for Media Justice, Consumer Watchdog, the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and World Privacy Forum.

Please follow this author on Twitter @Tineka_S or comment below.

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