November 2, 2011

Skirting the law to get kids on Facebook.

A survey came out recently where parents admitted that they let their kids use Facebook before they were 13, the legal minimum for nearly every website on the internet.

Is it a good thing to skirt the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)?

I honestly don’t think so. I’ll be honest, I was a teenager as the internet first became available, and made a lot of mistakes in my early days. I learned about the skeezy older men who were on the lookout for teenagers, before there was “To Catch a Predator.” I learned about the importance of anonymity very quickly. And that was when all you pretty much hung out on Usenet in AOL’s chatrooms or message boards. There’s a lot more out there, and a lot more people on the internet.

Kids are pretty trusting. In fact, most of us are. I have a relative that puts all sorts of information on her Facebook wall. All of it is publicly accessible- she doesn’t seem to keep anything back. While she’s an adult, I can only imagine how bad things could have been if she had internet access as a 12 year old.

So what is COPPA? It’s a law that sets guidelines about how much information websites can get from kids younger than 13. Ever play any of the Disney website games, like Pixie Hollow (that’s built around Tinkerbell’s pre-Peter Pan adventures)? Even if you’re an adult, there isn’t much of a chat function. As a matter of fact, there’s no real way to know who is on the other side of that pixie you’re playing. All because COPPA won’t allow it, to protect your child’s privacy.

While it’s possible for kids’ game sites to build communities that protect them- can you imagine trying to make that functionality for a site like Facebook? As it is, 13 year olds can’t be publicly searched for or have public profiles. There’s been discussion about amending COPPA to reflect younger users, but until then, if you skirt the law- it’s your responsibility and yours alone when it comes to your child’s internet safety.

If your child is going to be online prior to age 13 (or really at any age), here are my tips:

  • Become an expert in social networking privacy settings. Your kids won’t bother making sure that their profiles are locked down tight.
  • Teach your kids to only add people they know and trust in real life.
  • Make sure your children know that posting on the internet is like having a conversation in a crowded room. It might seem like you’re only talking to the people in your immediate circle, but if they tell another person- you have no control over what happens beyond that.
  • Show them the Wayback Machine. Let them see that once they’ve posted something, it’s there forever.
  • Make sure they understand that nothing is free on the internet. Sites sell your personal information, and while you might know that an offer for a free iPad will lead to nothing good, they won’t. They’ll see it as a shortcut.

Any other things that you would add to this list? What do you think- do you let your kids on the internet?

Day 2 of NaBloPoMo

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