Facebook Founder Fighting To Banish Under-13
Online Protection Law
Okay, lets face it.
America's youngest billionaire is still young... meaning he hasn't had to keep
tabs on his kids sharing personal information on Facebook. While law enforcement
officials continue to warn parents about the dangers of young people using
online social networking, Mark Zuckerberg boldly stated he wants to "fight" the
Children's Online Protection Act (COPPA) so that children of any age can use
Facebook. Why? Because it's educational.
At an education summit in Burlingame, CA earlier last week,
magazine reports the college dropout correctly explained
that, "Education is clearly the biggest thing that will drive how the economy
improves over the long term." Then he adds that future software and technology
"will enable people to learn a lot from their fellow students," citing group
homework activities as a way to encourage more kids to study for tests. And what
better way to facilitate these happy homework parties than Facebook?
Does he ever look at the profile of an average 13-year-old on his massive site?
Does he read the news? The last thing Facebook is currently doing is
facilitating education. Certainly the potential for such commendable activities
could be hiding in future updates, but right now there is a far greater priority
facing Mr. Zuckerberg, and that is helping the current crop of 13- to
17-year-olds stay safe and demonstrating that his company is truly able and
willing to comply with COPPA in keeping under 13-year-olds from faking
birthdates and using the site.
Yet that's not the direction this company appears to be headed. Convoluted
privacy settings change and move around like a sideshow shell game. Now you see
it, now you don't, and then -- as was the case with photos and other private
information on many profiles a few months back -- now everyone sees it. No, the
last thing this guy is interested in is protecting privacy. Instead, the junior
tycoon says the legal restrictions that don't allow his company to collect
personal information from children under 13 "...will be a fight we take on at
some point." Returning to his education mantra, he adds, "My philosophy is that
for education you need to start at a really, really young age."
A "really, really young age"? If parents are having a difficult time coping with
the sensitive information being shared by a 15-year-old on Facebook, imagine
dealing with a 5-year-old. And I can't even begin to imagine the marketing
potential of having these details delivered to countless advertisers who would
love to reach this audience that is often kept behind protective legislation.
Yet in Zuckerberg's world, somehow nursery rhymes and honesty boxes will all
come together as one big, happy educational experience.
Frankly, I doubt this determined CEO will change or destroy COPPA, but he has
certainly revealed his response toward the recent report from
Consumer Reports that reveals
millions of underage users are lurking on Facebook after entering false ages in
their profiles. When this news released a couple of weeks ago, I was na´ve
enough to think that Facebook executives would be scrambling to get this
situation under control. Instead they are hatching a protest, perhaps soon to
become a true legal challenge, against a key law that is attempting to protect
the most vulnerable segment of our population.
I appreciate Mr. Zuckerberg's desire to promote education, and he has shown
monetary support toward schools in the past with his $100 million donation
toward education in New Jersey. Yet this young man is business first, and you
can bet that adding a sizeable segment of the population to his potential user
base is a monetary target far greater than this donation and is too much to
ignore. Sadly, if parents are expecting Facebook to step up to the plate and
protect their children from online exploitation, you may be waiting a long
time... at least until Mr. Zuckerberg gets a different education in the pitfalls
of social networking for children.
Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews« - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.
and the Media by Rod Gustafson
Television Council -
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