Lawmakers question Facebook's membership plans for children

Veteran lawmakers in Congress are questioning Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about his company’s reported desire to offer membership services to children.

Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), the co-chairmen of the Bi-Partisan Congressional Privacy Caucus, sent Zuckerberg a letter late Monday seeking more information about the company's filings with the Federal Trade Commission, which indicate a desire to offer membership to children under 13. 

"Permitting children under 13 to use the social networking site raises a number of important questions about how Facebook would comply with COPPA," Markey and Barton wrote, referring to the Childrens' Online Privacy Protection Act.

ADVERTISEMENT
Children under the age of 13 are protected from websites that collect personal information, including Facebook, by COPPA. The law makes it hard for sites to offer membership to anyone younger than 13, though children can lie about their ages to circumvent the law.

Markey and Barton asked Zuckerberg a number of questions about Facebook's intentions for COPPA compliance should it expand membership to young children. The lawmakers said they are especially concerned about whether the parent or child would be the primary user if the site requires parental consent.

In a statement to The Hill, a Facebook spokesman said the company is in “continuous dialogue with stakeholders, regulators and other policymakers about how best to help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment."  

Markey and Barton 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.

"While Facebook provides important communication and entertainment opportunities, we strongly believe that children and their personal information should not be viewed as a source of revenue," they said.