Bill would let parents control kids’ Facebook pages

A new bill under consideration in California would force Facebook and other social networking sites to remove personal information on childrens’ accounts at their parents’ request.

There’s increasing concern about the number of children using sites such as Facebook. While children under 13 are prohibited from joining, many simply lie about their date of birth, often with the full consent of their parents. Indeed, a recent survey by Consumer Reports found that as many as 7.5 million kids were doing so.

But the proposed Social Networking Privacy Act would also allow parents to take down their child’s page altogether, with fines as high as $10,000 for companies that failed to comply within 48 hours – rather a tall order for the websites.

And it would mean that users would have to set privacy settings as soon as they join, rather than allowing them to do that at a later date. This provision, however, may not be as sensible as it sounds – it would mean that users would be making detailed decisions about a service before they’d even used it for the first time.

And the bill wouldn’t just apply to Facebook. As it covers any website where a public or semi-public profile is created, it would also apply to dating and employment websites, for example.

Unsurprisingly, a number of internet companies including Facebook, Google, Twitter and have submitted a formal letter of opposition to the plans.

They say that introducing privacy controls at the sign-up stage could confuse users and actually decrease privacy.

“Known as ‘privacy shrink wrap’, this practice results in users clicking quickly through the available options without contextual understanding ofor serious thought to the case-by-case implications of the choices being made,” they say in a letter to the bill’s sponsor, Ellen Corbett.

“A common just-in-time, contextual privacy notice on a popular social networking site has fewer than forty words, describes exactly the information to be shared and with whom, and is easily understood by a layperson.”