Facebook’s IPO might have gotten off to a rocky start, but it looks like it will be expanding its user-base significantly. Children may be the next demographic joining Facebook.
As a matter of absolute fact, many of the children have already come, but now Facebook is exploring technology that will allow children to join without lying about their age. Despite the fact that the Terms of Service state that one must be over 13 to join Facebook, some 5.6 million children younger than 13 have Facebook accounts. The reason the TOS say that is because Facebook, up until now, hasn’t wanted to comply with the Child Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires more rigorous standards than Facebook currently uses.
One of the things COPPA requires is parental permission for the account and keeping parents informed. Naturally, one of the things Facebook is looking at is connecting children’s accounts to their parents’. Some child-advocates argue that Facebook isn’t the appropriate environment for children and no studies have been done on how safe it would be. But children are already joining, there is a strong possibility that having children’s accurate ages and joining under the COPPA restrictions will be safer for them than Facebook’s current blind eye.
As Facebook told the Wall Street: “Many recent reports have highlighted just how difficult it is to enforce age restrictions on the Internet, especially when parents want their children to access online content and services. We are in continuous dialogue with stakeholders, regulators and other policymakers about how best to help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment.”
The biggest news from this, though, is the huge new marketing opportunities it will open up. While there are ads on Facebook aimed at the 13 year olds, the under 13 set is not being advertised to as thoroughly as possible. Expect far more ads from Mattel and Kellogg’s. One of the fastest growing aspects of the site is the games, and surely there is a market for games aimed at the very young. There are also opportunities for educational companies to offer programming through the site — something Mark Zuckerberg spoke of last year.
Of course, advertising to children has always been contentious, so it remains to be seen whether there will be special restrictions on what content is allowed to be shown to children and if that will impact trying to get children to buy things. Still, it looks like a huge new market just waiting for Facebook to give the go ahead.