A new report from the University of Illinois At Chicago finds that the measures taken by services like Facebook to comply with the law have resulted in it being largely ineffective.
The report, based on a survey of US parents with children between the ages of 10 and 14, looks specifically at how parents view Facebook's minimum age requirement. Like many websites, Facebook requires users to be at least 13 years old to join in order to avoid any COPPA compliance issues.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that large numbers of children younger than 13 sign up for Facebook accounts. The report found their parents are almost always aware of the child's Facebook activity.
In fact, the majority actually helped their child create the account, almost always with the knowledge that it was against Facebook's terms of service. What almost none of them were aware of was the reason for Facebook's policy.
As the UIC researchers said:
When sites like Facebook respond to laws such as COPPA by restricting access for under?13 children ? and, thereby, prohibit children from creating accounts ? parents and children are forced to circumvent these prohibitions and forgo the privacy and safety benefits of COPPA if they wish to regain control over their online opportunities. These benefits include the option for parents to audit and delete their children?s data. While in some ways this may encourage greater collaboration between parents and children (after all, few things are more powerful combining agents than a common obstacle), this was not the intended consequence of COPPA.
10 years after COPPA went into effect, the Federal Trade Commission is engaged in a new rulemaking process in which they propose to improve the process by tightening the requirements for verification of parental permission and place additional restrictions on what information may be gathered.
Of course that will have absolutely no effect on any service, like Facebook, with a policy of restricting use to those 13 and older. In fact, if anything it would likely cause more websites to implement such a policy.
This report concludes that to be an ineffective measure, and recommends:
New solutions must be devised that help limit when, where, and how data are used, but the key to helping children and their parents enjoy the benefits of those solutions is to abandon age?based mechanisms that inadvertently result in limiting children?s options for online access.
Written by: Rich Fiscus @ 2 Nov 2011 23:34