Facebook takes baby steps toward kids' social network

Facebook's real goal: selling games to tweens and teens, but the move could make Facebook safer and better overall, if done right

Silly regulators, Facebook is for kids.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Facebook is working on a scheme to allow users under the age of 13 to legally gain access to parts of the site. Per the WSJ:

Mechanisms being tested include connecting children's accounts to their parents' and controls that would allow parents to decide whom their kids can "friend" and what applications they can use, people who have spoken with Facebook executives about the technology said. The under-13 features could enable Facebook and its partners to charge parents for games and other entertainment accessed by their children, the people said.

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As Forbes' Kashmir Hill drolly puts it, "Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is ready to have children. Not necessarily with his new wife, but on his social networking site."

Anyone who has spent any time on Facebook has seen an awful lot of 99-year-olds who look more like 9 years old. Consumer Reports estimates the number of tweens or younger on Facebook exceeds 7.5 million. That's because faking your age (or anything else) on Facebook is ludicrously easy. All you need for a Facebook account at this point is a working email address. There is no bouncer checking your ID at the door.

MySpace's initially laissez faire attitude toward creepers and stalkers is at least part of what brought it swirling down into the toilet, though extreme obnoxiousness and a tendency to cater to strippers and trailer trash didn't help either. My take is that MySpace failed to institute proper safeguards -- say, by making underage accounts private by default -- because somebody somewhere feared it would hamper the site's growth. By the time MySpace got around to making life tougher on the pervs, it was too late.

What kids really need is their own social network walled off from the world of adults, with maybe read-only spying privileges for parents. And the line shouldn't be drawn at age 13; it should be at age 18. We need a Facebook for adults and for non-adults. But that would require both adult and child versions of Facebook to start authenticating identities in a verifiable way, like via a government issued ID or a credit card. Otherwise there's nothing to keep 49-year-old pervs from pretending to be 9.

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