Facebook may be working to bring in users under 13

Report says social network working on parental control tools to allow younger users

Speculation is flying that Facebook executives may be developing technology that would enable kids under the age of 13 to join the site with parental supervision.

Intetrest by Facebook in lowering the minimum age to under 13 years old to join the world's most popular social network was first reported in the Wall Street Journal. The network is reportedly testing ways to link a child's Facebook page to his or her parents', along with tools that would enable parents to decide who their children can "friend" and what apps they can use.

A Facebook spokesman told Computerworld that the company is investigating this complicated issue, but has not made any decisions.

"Many recent reports have highlighted just how difficult it is to enforce age restrictions on the Internet, especially when parents want their children to access online content and services," said the spokesman. "We are in continuous dialogue with stakeholders, regulators and other policymakers about how best to help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment."

"That would certainly drive up subscribers," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research. "But I don't know how valuable they would be, since kids under 13 don't have much purchasing power."

However, Kerravala noted that many kids now lie about their age to join the social network and this might curb that problem to some extent. And it also would draw kids in and get them connected earlier so they're loyal users when they get old enough to have more money to spend, increasing the power of Facebook's ads.

"The problem for Facebook is the under-13 set might find something else to use when they hit 13," he added. "The idea may be to get them connected now."

Any such move would mean that Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has had a change of mind.

In May 2011, Zuckerberg, speaking to the world's top Internet leaders during the closing keynote at the e-G8 Internet forum in Paris, said he wasn't interested in working to get younger users on the site.

"We're not trying to work on the ability for people under the age of 13 to sign up," Zuckerberg said. "That's just not on the list of things for us to figure out right now." However, he did say that he'd like to look more deeply into the issue at some point in the future.

If Facebook is working to include younger users, it may be because of competition from Google+, which in January widened its potential user base by lowering its age requirement from 18 to 13 years old.

Google+ executives did not mention moving to add users under the age of 13.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

Read more about web 2.0 and web apps in Computerworld's Web 2.0 and Web Apps Topic Center.

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