Facebook is developing technology that would allow pre-teen children to sign up for the social networking site without their parents' supervision. So says a report in The Wall Street Journal.
The Journal is touting the move as a "step that could help the company tap a new pool of users for revenue but also inflame privacy concerns." Of course, many children under 13 are already using Facebook by simply putting in a false birthdate. Facebook's new scheme may give parents a way to tighten the reins.
The Wall Street Journal cites the possibility of tying children's accounts to their parents and allowing mom and dad to decide who their kids could "friend," as well as what apps they could use. Revenue-wise, it could open the door for more game spending by charging the parents for apps kids use.
Kids Losing Interest
We caught up with Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, to get his take on this reported move, which could turn out to be a double-edged sword for Facebook. He told us there are several things going on around Facebook's rumored exploration.
"First, Facebook is just accepting the reality that there are millions of sub-13-year-olds on the site, many aided by their parents. But this is also potentially a revenue opportunity for Facebook," Sterling said. "Kids are among the heaviest players of online games and this would open up that audience to gaming on Facebook -- and advertising -- and the related revenues that games and other activities might generate."
Clearly, however, it would be controversial because of privacy and "stalking" of minors that could happen, Sterling said. As he sees it, Facebook is simultaneously trying to ensure the next generation of Facebook users at a time when there's evidence that kids and teens are losing interest in Facebook. Services like Instagram have captured heavy usage among tweens, Sterling noted, perhaps one of the reasons that Facebook bought the site.
Facebook's Education Play?
We also checked in with Jake Wengroff, global director of social media strategy and research at Frost & Sullivan. He told us officially allowing children under 13 years of age access to Facebook seems like too little, too late: Children (of all ages) can simply lie about their age when creating their account.
"Indeed, lying about one's identity is as old as the Internet itself. I see this move as a way to target another market: online education. Facebook may have a distance-learning or classroom management product up its sleeve, or perhaps, is encouraging its development community to develop apps for the education market," Wengroff said.
"In order to successfully roll these out -- and sell them to school districts or to for-profit, private outfits -- Facebook needs to prove that children are indeed part of its network , with sufficient policies and controls in place, of course."