...and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has spread $650,000 in lobbying cash around Washington in the first quarter of this year alone to get at 'em.
Last week, the announcement of an upcoming Facebook phone failed to stop the free fall of the company's stock which dropped another 3% today from an opening high of $45 to an all-time low of $26.90. This week, Facebook is officially targeting children, testing new ways of integrating under-13s unto its user base. Seems like more than coincidence.
The social medium's history of privacy screw-ups, findings by the FTC that Facebook has misrepresented what it does with users' personal information, the growing number of disenchanted members bailing from it, and an ongoing federal probe of FB's IPO rollout all add up to a troubling question: Can Facebook be trusted with our kids' personal data? Are children Facebook's last shot at salvation as stockholder skepticism grows? A pool of innocent users to be tapped, curated and marketed? Feels very creepy.
Facebook claims it's simply dealing with reality — that untold millions of children and tweens are already on board, lying about their age. Make 'em legal by relaxing the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (which regulates what personal information websites can mine from kids) says Facebook, emphasizing it's for their protection. The site promises to exclude children from exposure to ads, and to limit those who can access a youngster's account. Still, there's plenty of skepticism.
The L.A. Times reports Reps. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe L. Barton (R-Texas) fired off a letter to Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg on Monday. "We believe strongly that children and their personal information should not be viewed as a commodity to be bought and sold to the highest bidder" they said.
Beyond privacy concerns, an Ohio State University study says kids who use the social networking site spend far less time studying and get lower grades than those who don't have a profile. Facebook students only hit the books 1 to 5 hours per week while non-users study for 11 to 15 hours a week. Meantime, child psychologists report Facebook kids are failing to develop social skills, learning how to mix it up in real time with non-virtual playmates.
Bottom line: Can kids be protected from the rampant online bullying that goes down on Facebook? Can they truly be protected from predators? Are their kid sensibilities so much cannon fodder for marketers? And, are they emotionally prepared to be bored to tears hearing about your latest Starbucks latte?