Facebook users lax on privacy, protecting children online

Do you use Facebook's privacy controls? If you don't, you're not alone, according to Consumer Reports.

Facebook users still do not use privacy controls to protect themselves, and a third of children under 18 are below the site's minimum age of 13, Consumer Reports reported in its June issue.

About 9.5 million Facebook users in the United States still do not use any type of privacy controls on the site, about one out of every five active users in the country, according to the "2011 Consumer Reports State of the Net Survey." The data is surprising, considering Facebook attempted to make some changes last year to address privacy concerns.

Education May Be the Answer

Facebook's problem may be that some users don't realize that they can control what they share. Consumer Reports found that two-thirds of these users not using the privacy controls didn't even know they existed.

"The fact that so many other Facebook users are still in the dark about the controls is troubling," Consumer Reports technology editor Jeffrey Fox wrote in a blog post. "These findings suggest that Facebook needs to further step up its efforts to inform users about the controls and make it easier to access them."

Privacy education isn't the only thing Facebook should be worrying about. Researchers found that about 7.5 million users were under the age of 13, the minimum age to use the site.

Facebook screens users and will reject those under 13, but getting in is as simple as falsifying your birth date. Worse yet, researchers believed that a large number of these profiles were unsupervised by their parents. Is this a problem? You bet: About one million children were harassed or cyberbullied on the site last year alone.

Just "Friend" Your Kid

There's a simple way these parents could be monitoring their children--simply adding them as a "friend." But surprisingly enough, only 18 percent of parents were doing so for those under 10. For those between 13 and 18, it was much higher at 62 percent.

While we may like to think our children are innocent and angelic when they're little, leaving them unsupervised on the Internet is never a good idea. If you're a parent, take the time to ensure your child is safe on Facebook. A little effort could certainly go a long way.

For more tech news and commentary, follow Ed on Twitter at @edoswald and on Facebook.

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