Researchers discovered the weak link in child protection laws: Parents. A federal rule designed to keep stalky marketers away from kids is being thwarted by moms and dads seeking to expose their kids to... stalky marketers, of the sort bundled into Facebook. We clearly need new laws, but a new set of parents wouldn't hurt, either.
To comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, Facebook requires all members be at least 13. But 42 percent of surveyed parents of 12-year-olds reported helping their child bypass the restriction, as did 24 percent of all parents, according to a poll of 1,007 moms and dads of kids 10-14 by NYU researcher Danah Boyd. Meanwhile, 78 percent thought it was fine for their little one to violate online age rules, in part because they have no idea there are actual laws involved, but also because they aren't particularly bothered, apparently, by the very data collection COPPA was enacted to prevent.
Boyd, who's been studying social networks for a long time, advocates updating COPPA, itself 13 years old and, due to the relatively recent advent of social networking, having a particularly gawky adolescence. But maybe the real solution is to abandon the idea of a two-tiered privacy scheme, in which hysterical parents carve special protections for kids and then turn around and teach those kids to treat the laws with contempt because they're inconvenient. If Facebook and Google handled children's privacy in the same manner they handled adult privacy, maybe there would be more political support to rein in their outrages.