Of the 20 million minors who actively used Facebook in the past year, 7.5 million of them were younger than 13, according to projections from Consumer Reports’ latest State of the Net survey. Facebook’s terms of service require users to be at least 13 years old.
Also among this group of minors using Facebook, more than 5 million were 10 and under. Consumer Reports survey found that their accounts were largely unsupervised by their parents, exposing them to malware or serious threats such as predators or bullies. The report on Internet security, which includes the full survey results and advice for parents of Facebook users, is featured in the June issue of Consumer Reports and their website.
“Despite Facebook’s age requirements, many kids are using the site who shouldn’t be,” says Jeff Fox, Technology Editor for Consumer Reports. “What’s even more troubling was the finding from our survey that indicated that a majority of parents of kids 10 and under seemed largely unconcerned by their children’s use of the site.”
Using Facebook presents children and their friends and family with safety, security, and privacy risks. In the past year, the use of Facebook has exposed more than five million online U.S. households to some type of abuse including virus infections, identity theft, and—for a million children—bullying, the survey shows.
Kids Being Social but Safe
- Monitor a child’s account. Parents should join their children’s circle of friends on Facebook. If that’s not feasible with an older teenager, keep tabs on them through their friends or siblings, as did 18 percent of parents surveyed who had 13- to 17-year olds on Facebook. Parents should delete a preteen’s account or ask Facebook to do so by using its “report an underage child” form.
- Utilize privacy controls. Roughly one in five active adult Facebook users said they hadn’t utilized Facebook’s privacy controls, making them more vulnerable to threats. Facebook’s privacy controls may not prevent every breach but they help. Users should set everything they can to be accessible only to those on their friends list. Enabling a public search allows users’ profile picture, friends list, activities and more to be visible online outside of Facebook.
- Turn off Instant Personalization. Facebook has been adding sites to its Instant Personalization feature, which automatically links accounts to user-review sites such as TripAdvisor (travel) and Yelp (local businesses). Users who don’t wish to share what cities they have visited with their Facebook friends via TripAdvisor should disable Instant Personalization, which is turned on by default.
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Additional findings from Consumer Reports latest State of the Net are featured in the June 2011 issue of Consumer Reports magazine available on newsstands or online. The cover report “Your Security” also highlights 25 things cops and crooks say consumers do to make them an easy target of crime, how bank, credit cards and other accounts are vulnerable to thieves, and ratings of door locks and security software.