Consumers Union Calls on Facebook to Step Up Efforts to Keep Underage Users Off Site, Protect Teen Privacy

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NEWS RELEASE

Friday, May 20, 2011

Contact:  David Butler (dbutler@consumer.org), Kara Kelber (kkelber@consumer.org): 202-462-6262

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, is calling on Facebook to step up efforts to keep underage users off the site and protect teen privacy.

In a letter today to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the group cited its recent national survey of 2,089 online households in the U.S. Projections from the survey showed that 20 million minors actively used Facebook in the past year. Of those, as many as 7.5 million were estimated to be younger than 13, and around 5 million were estimated to be 10 years old and under. Facebook’s policies are supposed to limit membership to individuals 13 and older.

In the letter to Zuckerberg, Consumers Union regulatory counsel Ioana Rusu wrote, “We urge Facebook to strengthen its efforts to identify and terminate the accounts of users under 13 years of age, and also to implement more effective age verification methods for users signing up for new accounts. Facebook should also be more transparent about its current strategies to prevent preteens from accessing the site, as well as its efforts to seek out and terminates underage user accounts.”

For Facebook users under the age of 18, Rusu said, default privacy settings should be set at the “friends only” privacy setting for all categories of information. If teens wish to share their information more broadly, they should actively change their setting to reflect that desire. This improvement, she wrote, would encourage teens to think more critically about who they want to share information with instead of simply accepting the “recommended” changes implemented by default on the site.

Rusu said Facebook should also adopt an “eraser button” principle, allowing individuals to delete all personally identifying information posted about them on the site while they are minors. In law enforcement, juvenile records are expunged at the age of 18. Facebook should have a similar policy, Rusu wrote, allowing users to completely erase all personally identifying information posted to the site while the individual is a minor.

Click here to read the full letter.