SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook is taking heat from U.S. lawmakers after reports that the company is exploring ways to let children under 13 onto its social network.
The co-chairmen of the Bi-Partisan Congressional Privacy Caucus, Reps. Joe Barton, R-Texas, and Edward Markey, D-Mass., sent a letter to Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg on Monday asking him to provide details on the company's plans for allowing access to children under age 13, who fall under stricter regulations around online privacy.
Facebook is looking at ways to let younger children use its website, though the company hasn't made a final decision on whether or how to give them access, said a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. While the move would expand Facebook's user base, it would also invite further scrutiny over privacy and security on the world's largest social network.
"We strongly believe that children and their personal information should not be viewed as a source of revenue," the representatives wrote in the letter. "We are deeply concerned that the changes discussed by Facebook could potentially have a harmful impact on our children."
Children 12 and younger are protected by the 1998 Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires websites to notify parents and obtain their consent before collecting personal data from minors.
Complying with this law while opening Facebook's service to younger users could create technical challenges, said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a Washington-based privacy group.
"Facebook can't simply get a parent to say OK and have children face a slew of viral marketing and ad campaigns," Chester said. "If Facebook is to serve children, they have to create a state-the-art system to protect their privacy."