An Australian member of Parliament plans to propose legislation that would give parents control of their children’s Facebook profiles, in response to parental concerns about kids’ actions on the social network.
Denis Hood, a member of Australia’s conservative Family First party, is drafting legislation that would require Facebook to give parents updates on their children’s interactions on the site and control over what they post.
Hood is reportedly responding to the account of a mother who asked Facebook to intervene in her 13-year-old daughter’s account. The company informed her that it could only deal with the account owner, the child.
“I believe that Facebook needs to amend its policy regarding parental controls and legislation needs to be amended to allow parents to properly monitor their children’s online activities,” said Hood. “That policy and privacy laws are interfering with parents’ ability to properly protect their children from inappropriate online exposure.”
The legislation is representative of widespread concern, both in Australia and abroad, about how minors should be allowed to participate in social networks.
Facebook’s terms state that children under 13 can’t use the site, but there’s no practical way to enforce the rule, and estimates on the number of 12-and-under users top three million — nearly half of kids aged 9 to 12 use the service in Europe.
Its age limit itself is the arbitrary result of U.S. federal regulation designed to protect the privacy of 12-and-under users that Facebook would rather not deal with.
But parents of younger teens may still have legitimate concerns about both what their child is exposing on social networks and what he or she may be exposed to. The site has unveiled tools designed to help curb bullying and misbehavior, but they’re hardly an all-encompassing solution.
However, it’s not clear how the Australian regulation would address the underlying issues. It seems unlikely that a parent unable to control a child’s social networking behavior would be in a position to keep the child from using a secret Facebook account, which would be an obvious workaround to any formal parental control features.
The practical issues Facebook would need to address to comply with such a law are also daunting. The company would need to collect rock-solid proof of identity for both the child and the parent — otherwise, it could end up granting anyone permission to snoop on any other account.
If such a law were passed, it’s possible that the company would simply cut off Australian users — there are about 10 million, making up about 1.5 percent of the company’s user base.