Facebook for Kids, Really?
In a move that will surely be fiercely debated, newly public Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) is planning to add to its user base by allowing children younger than 13 years to create accounts on its social network. The company is developing a technology that will incorporate parental supervision for the young users, several of whom are already believed to lie about their age to get access to the network.
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Facebook is now testing ways to connect children’s accounts to their parents’ and add new controls that would help parents monitor whom the child friends and what apps they use, according to the Wall Street Journal.
With focus on the company’s earnings growing exponentially alongside the public trading process, Facebook has been trying hard to find new a way to sustain its 88 percent revenue growth from last year, as well as add new monetization channels. The company’s concerns about its revenue, especially as mobile use grows worldwide, have largely been blamed for its falling stock since its IPO last month. One idea behind the new initiative, then, is that the under-13 features could enable Facebook to charge parents for games and other content accessed by their children.
The company is already said to be discussing a potential partnership with Disney (NYSE:DIS). At the moment, children’s gaming is dominated by Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), whose smartphone provide one platform for access to social games.
Gaming has been a big source of revenue for Facebook, with 12 percent of its $3.7 billion last year coming from games such as partner Zynga’s (NASDAQ:ZNGA) Farmville. Traditional advertising has not been as strong a contributor, with concerns about the platform’s long-term efficacy growing after General Motors (NYSE:GM) decided to withdraw paid advertising from Facebook, citing a lack of sufficient gains.
However, Facebook’s decision to allow children to help expand its 950 million-strong user base will not come without debates and its share of controversies, with regulators likely to dissect the move. Facebook’s privacy policies are already under scrutiny as instances of those under 13 managing to get access by lying about their age grow. According to one report, 7.5 million children under the age of 13 were using the site.
Some say that in such a scenario, Facebook had little choice but to find new ways of establishing controls. “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,” Facebook told WSJ. “We are in continuous dialogue with stakeholders, regulators and other policy makers about how best to help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment.”