Are Google and Facebook getting ready to open their doors to preteens?

Let me be blunt: these doors don’t need to be opened. The pre-teens are already on Facebook and Google, they weren’t waiting for the red carpet. They’ve had email for a long time and created profiles on both Facebook, Instagram, and Google+.

Here’s a newsflash: when they signed up, they just lied about their age. Why? Because it was the only option they had to open an account. If they had said their real birth year they would have been locked out, so the decision was easy. I understand why Google et al decided not to allow accounts for any self-declared child: following the parental permissions outlined in COPPA is a headache and they didn’t see much upside in officially allowing children to sign up for accounts.

9 years old? You are not eligible to create an account at this time.

9 years old? You are not eligible to create an account at this time.

In fact, it got to the point where Apple was/is actively marketing its products to kids (just look at any iPad commercial) with apps targeted specifically at kids and a kid-friendly interface that even toddlers could play with. Yet when I set up my daughter’s iPod, Apple would not let me create an account as with her age saying that “You are not eligible to create an account at this time.” To me, that seems hypocritical: market to kids, profit from kids, yet pretend all your customers are over 13. Again, I understand that it’s not easy, even though from what I have read about the recent iKeepSafe safe harbor program it seems to have become easier to implement COPPA compliance recently.

The benefits to all parties can be incredible:

For kids: they might get a more closely monitored environment on social media, where interactions can be more closely watched by humans (as opposed to algorithms) to prevent bullying, harassment and targeting by pedophiles. They might get a pared down selection from the app, movie and music stores that is limited by ESRB rating and Common Sense Media suggestions; they might get a safer YouTube, where video selection and ads are all age-appropriate (if YouTube just stopped showing my daughter any more alcohol ads and violent R-rated movie previews, I’d be happy!)

For parents: a bit more peace of mind. Of the many comments I’ve on articles such as huge in-app purchases made by kids in games many say the parents have the final responsibility. However, parents need all the help they can get. Additional and easier-to-operate options to monitor and limit their child’s device and online presence would be welcome.

For companies: I hate to say that they’d benefit by knowing who their real audience and therefore being able to better target ads to them. Can we just agree that they would be doing it for the greater good and put our heads back in the sand? After all, it’s not like they are not already building their online ad profile, right?

Anyway, I hope the rumors are right and that Google (and YouTube) and Facebook are gearing up to really support kids. It’s about time.



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