Facebook recently responded to the June letter sent by Reps. Joe Barton (R-TX) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) that queried the company about reports the it was considering a plan to allow children under the age of 12 to have access to the social networking site. Facebook's response to the lawmakers addressed its efforts to comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), but the company didn't directly respond to concerns about how the site would handle kids under 12, especially with regard to data collection and sharing policies, nor if it will target advertising to child users. The response also included information about Facebook's new tool called "Social Reporting" that allows teens to directly notify others of content they want removed from the social networking site, a feature similar to the "eraser button" provision that is part of the "Do Not Track Kids Act", legislation proposed by Reps. Markey and. Barton.
"While we appreciate Facebook's response to our letter, we still have the same serious concerns. The company made it clear they have made no final decision about opening the site to those under 12 so they are not in a position to answer our specific questions at this point," said Rep. Barton. "With things still in the discussion phase, we would like to encourage Facebook to carefully consider our inquiries while they contemplate allowing access to young children. Their protection is of the utmost importance and must be carefully considered. We also hope to continue our dialogue and eventually receive the answers needed."
"Children are not commodities, and their personal information should not be harvested to yield ad revenue for Facebook and its hungry shareholders," said Rep. Markey. "The privacy of personal information for pre-teens should not become a post-script in Facebook's drive for profits. Facebook must resist the impulse to violate users' privacy, including the millions of children and teens who are reportedly using its service. Now is the time we put children's privacy laws on the books to ensure Facebook and other online companies do exactly what we know they can do, and what we know they should do. I will continue to monitor this situation and look forward to receiving further clarity on any plans Facebook may have for children under 13."
Reps. Markey and Barton, co-Chairmen of the Bi-Partisan Congressional Privacy Caucus have introduced the "Do Not Track Kids Act of 2011", legislation that amends and updates COPPA to protect children and teens online in the 21st century. The Do Not Track Kids Act will extend, enhance and update the provisions related to collection, use and disclosure of children's personal information. The legislation will require consent from parents before companies collect information about children, prohibits targeted advertising to kids and teens, and ensures kids and teens 17 and younger have an eraser button to delete their personal information online.
Written in 1998, COPPA is the law that applies to operators of websites directed to children age 12 and younger that collect, use, or disclose personal information from children, or operators of general audience websites with actual knowledge they collect, use, or disclose personal information from children under 13.
As part of their widespread ongoing investigations into online data privacy and security practices, Reps. Markey and Barton have been the Congressional leaders working to get answers from Facebook on a series of recent privacy and security breaches.