Survey Finds Millions of Facebook Users Under Age 13

Consumer Reports is projecting today that, of the 20 million minors who used Facebook in the past year, 7.5 million are under the required age of 13. Worse, more than 5 million of this young group are under age 11.

The publication’s latest State of the Net survey finds that most of these accounts are unsupervised by parents, which leaves the kids vulnerable to malware, predators and bullies online.

News that the under-13 crowd is on Facebook – and shouldn’t be – probably isn’t surprising to many parents. The networking site has become an integral part of youth social culture. What’s troubling, notes Consumer Reports technology editor Jeff Fox, is that most of the surveyed parents of these kids seem “largely unconcerned by their children’s use of the site.”

Facebook presents kids, their friends and family with a number of safety and privacy risks. The survey finds that Facebook has exposed more than 5 million online U.S. households to computer viruses, identity theft, and ¬– for a million children – bullying.

Among the recommendations Consumer Reports has for parents of kids on Facebook:

Monitor your child’s account. Join your children’s circle of friends on Facebook. If you can’t do that with your older teens, try to keep tabs on them through the Facebook accounts of their friends or siblings (18 percent of parents of 13- to 17-year-olds on Facebook say they did just that, according to the survey). Meantime, delete a Facebook account if your child is under age 13, or ask Facebook to do so by using its “report an underage child” form.

Use Facebook’s privacy controls. You can set what other Facebook visitors and “friends” can access or not access when they’re on your child’s “page.” A good rule of thumb is to make that access available to the people on the child’s “friends” list only, not to the general Facebook user.

Turn off Instant Personalization. This Facebook feature links accounts to user-review sites such as TripAdvisor (travel) and Yelp (local businesses). If you don’t want others to know what cities you or your kids have visited, disable Instant Personalization.

Use apps with caution. Facebook says it doesn’t share identifiable information with advertisers without permission, but Consumer Reports points out that connecting with an app or website allows access to general information. Check the list of apps your kids are using and define the settings for each one. You might decide to eliminate a particular app altogether. And limit access to your child’s information that’s available to apps that friends use.

Facebook can seem overwhelming to parents trying to ensure that their kids are safe and using the site in a healthy way. Learn how to navigate social networking with our Parents' 12-Step Guide to Facebook.

– Deirdre Wilson

Posted May 2011