New Facebook patent would allow kids under 13 to join

Patent links parent and child accounts.

Mark ZuckerbergAP

A Facebook patent made public on Thursday would allow the social media giant to sign up members under the age of 13.

The patent allows children under 13 to create accounts when the information can be matched to their parents' Facebook profiles. Currently, users must check a box that states that they are over 13, and enter an age that corresponds with that information.

In addition to linking the parent and child accounts, parents would be able to view and manage their child's profile and account settings.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been working on a way to attract younger users within the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) for years. The legislation limits the type of personally identifiable information that can be collected when users are 12 or younger. By having the child's parents actively manage the account, COPPA could be circumvented.

According to Consumer Reports, 7.5 million Facebook users are actually under the age of 13, but this number could rise exponentially if pre-teens and children are able to legally make profiles. Zuckerberg said at a 2011 conference that grabbing younger consumers is a priority.

"My philosophy is that for education you need to start at a really, really young age," he said, adding that COPPA "will be a fight we take on at some point."

The American Academy of Pediatrics has consistently decried marketing campaigns that target small children, and overexposure to television and the internet at a young age.

"Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity," they wrote on their website. "In addition, the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviors."

The organization recommended that non-media activities compose most of a child's day.

"Children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and that should be high-quality content," they wrote. "It is important for kids to spend time on outdoor play, reading, hobbies, and using their imaginations in free play."

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