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7.5 million Facebook users are too young for the site

Among those below the company's age requirement that users be at least 13, more than 5 million are under 10, Consumer Reports finds.

May 11, 2011|By Shan Li, Los Angeles Times

About 7.5 million active Facebook users are skirting the company's age policy by lying about their age, saying they are 13 or older. Among those preteens, more than 5 million are under 10, according to a Consumer Reports survey.

That violates Facebook's own policy, meant to avoid federal regulations that apply to websites with young members. Those regulations require people who sign up to be at least 13, the report says.

The minors' accounts "were largely unsupervised by their parents, exposing them to malware or serious threats such as predators and bullies," according to a Consumer Reports statement.

"Despite Facebook's age requirements, many kids are using the site who shouldn't be," Consumer Reports technology editor Jeff Fox said in the statement. "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."

The survey also found that Facebook browsing exposed more than 5 million American households in the last year to some form of online abuse, including viruses and identity theft. About 1 million children faced some sort of cyber-bullying, the survey said.

In response, Facebook emphasized in a statement the difficulty of implementing and monitoring age restrictions over the Internet.

"Recent reports have highlighted … that there is no single solution to ensuring younger children don't circumvent a system or lie about their age," the statement said. "We appreciate the attention that these reports and other experts are giving this matter and believe this will provide an opportunity for parents, teachers, safety advocates and Internet services to focus on this area, with the ultimate goal of keeping young people of all ages safe online."

In April, Facebook rolled out new security tools aimed at improving how users report bullying, fake profiles and offensive content, in addition to announcing a teacher's guide to the social network.

The social networking giant also launched a redesign of its online Family Safety Center, which has tips for families, educators and teenagers looking to use Facebook safely.

shan.li@latimes.com

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