The details of a Patent that was applied for by Facebook back in 2012 have just gone public, and may be the latest clue that the social network may be looking to open up membership to children under 13 years old. The site has long prevented kids from joining due to a variety of regulations and privacy problems it would cause, but the patent they filed seems to attempt to address these concerns.
They are pushing to patent a technology that would help allow kids under 13 to get permission from their parents to make an account, but using the parent’s Facebook account. The parents would then have access to things like privacy settings and other information about the child’s account. Whether or not this will be sufficient to pass the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) will be largely up to the FTC, but it seems like something Facebook is interested in pursuing.
If Facebook does eventually get the green light to use this technology, and allow children under 13 to have active accounts, it may present a number of opportunities (and challenges) to marketers. Kids under 13 are a major target audience for a number of things, even if they don’t typically have a lot of spending cash on their own. Just watch an hour of ‘Nick JR.’ on TV and you’ll see that toy companies and many others spend a lot of money attempting to influence kids. And, as any parent knows, kids are very good at convincing parents that they “NEED” the latest toy or other product.
Marketers would also have to be careful to ensure they are in line with COPPA and other regulations, however, or it could cause a lot of legal problems.
There is no indication of when this patent will get approved or denied, or how quickly Facebook would like to push forward with this, but it is clearly something on their radar. The benefit of having millions of new members, especially at such a young age, is likely very attractive to the social media giant.