Internet

Study: Law Intended to Protect Children and Empower Parents Actually Encourages Kids to Lie, Makes Parenting Harder

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Surfing the cyberwebs

When Congress passed the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in 1998, their goal was to empower parents and keep kids safe in the growing network of mysterious cybertubes known as the Internet. Instead, it's encouraged kids to lie, often with the help of parents, and made it more difficult for parents to help guide their children through web, according to a new study by researchers at Harvard, U.C. Berkely, New York University, and Northwestern. 

The law, which instituted a complex age-verification regulatory regime for online activity, required website operators to get parental consent if their website collected personal information from children under 13 or if they had "actual knowledge" of children under age 13. The stated reason for the requirement? Drawing on reports from the time of the bill's passage, the authors says that legislators "intended that, by requiring companies to inform parents of their data–collection practices and obtain permission for uses of their children's data, COPPA would provide parents with better tools to protect their children in an online era."

How would online age verification be accomplished for kids who don't even have drivers licenses? Members of Congress didn't know, but didn't worry too much about the niggling technical details either. That would be left up to the website operators.

But online administrators didn't have any idea how to do it easily an reliably either. This is not terribly surprising; as the authors note, accurate and reliable age verification is "not technically easy nor is it without serious legal, economic, and social concerns." So what most affected website operators, including popular social networking sites like Facebook, ended up doing was prohibiting membership or use by children under age 13 entirely through their Terms of Service agreements.

This keeps the folks in charge of websites in technical compliance with COPPA's rules. But it hasn't kept younger children from joining Facebook or similar social networking sites in what appear to be large numbers. The report cites a 2011 Pew study noting that 45 percent of 12–year–olds who have online access say they've used social networking sites. Overall, they write, survey data indicates that "violating age restrictions is common" and that while precise measurements are difficult, "youth under 13 appear to be on Facebook in large numbers."

Still waiting for the Internet to look like this.

How are these kids able to create accounts if the site prohibits users under 13? It's simple enough: They lie about their ages. Facebook asks users how old they are, and blocks them if they report an age younger than 13. But younger children often just say they're older.

Indeed, according to the study, they often do it with the knowledge and even the help of their parents.

Although many sites restrict access to children, our data show that many parents knowingly allow their children to lie about their age — in fact, often help them to do so — in order to gain access to age–restricted sites in violation of those sites' ToS.

The result? These companies continue to collect potentially sensitive data about children under 13, but now do so under the mistaken impression that the kids are older than they are. Parents aren't getting more data and choices about their kids' online experiences as promised; instead, they're faced with the awkward choice to either allow their kid to lie or accept that much website access is off limits until age 13, whether or not the parent thinks his or her child is ready. As the report's authors write, "by creating a context in which companies choose to restrict access to children, COPPA inadvertently undermines parents' ability to make choices and protect their children's data." What about children? Well, I guess it teaches them an early lesson in exploiting loopholes both technical and regulatory. 

Study via Adam Thierer at The Tech Liberation Front

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  1. What’s all this have to do with a speeding bus?

    1. Are you telling me I can dodge bullets?

      1. I’m trying to tell you, when the 2012 candidates begin campaigning, you won’t want to.

  2. I busted some girl who I suspected of lying to me about her age by asking what her Chinese zodiac sign was.

    1. Who fucking knows what their chinese zodiac sign is?

      Are you picking up underage chinese hookers again, sarc?

      1. Who fucking knows what their chinese zodiac sign is?

        Most anyone who has eaten at a Chinese restaurant and looked at the paper place mat that has the Chinese zodiac on it.

        Are you picking up underage chinese hookers again, sarc?

        She was a hot blond trying to pass herself off as 18, and really looked the part.
        Alas it wasn’t the case.

        It was those first few years out of high school when high school girls were finally interested in me, and I couldn’t do anything about it.

        Life is cruel.

        1. *Shacking fist and wheezing* When I was in my first few years out of high school, all we had was ASCII porn, and we were grateful for it!

  3. I guess when the government decides to make it a felony to violate TOSs for websites, these kids and their parents will be locked up.

    1. Or perhaps drive Congress to pass a law requiring biometeric authentication for internet sites.

    2. I guess when the government decides to make it a felony to violate TOSs for websites

      When? It is already been done. No, it doesn’t explicitly say that in the law – but that hasn’t stopped federal prosecutors.

  4. Parents aren’t getting more data and choices about their kids’ online experiences as promised; instead, they’re faced with the awkward choice to either allow their kid to lie or accept that much website access is off limits until age 13

    Awkward choice between? What, don’t any of these parents own big, wide leather belts?

    1. What, don’t any of these parents own big, wide leather belts?
      Do you have a newsletter I could subscribe to?

    2. I remember my dad had those damn skinny leather belts. Oh what I would’ve given for something wider.

  5. Reason #9,823,473,853 never to have kids.

    1. My roommates’ kid, even though he is a really good baby, has reenforced my decision to never had kids.

      1. /sarc off

        I always felt that way until two years ago my wife discovered she was late.
        My daughter is the best thing to ever happen to my life, and my only regret is that I didn’t have her earlier.

        1. Well, to be precise, you didn’t have your daughter.

          And that (pregnancy, labor, birth), my dear sarcasmic, is reason #1 on my list to never have kids.

          1. I’ll give you that. I definitely had the easy part.
            My comment was to Matrix under the assumption that the person using the handle is male.

            1. I am, indeed, male.

              1. /sarc off

                Don’t give up on kids. Heck, I thought marriage was for the birds until I met the right woman.
                If you meet a woman you really believe you can spend the rest of your life with, reconsider having kids.
                You may regret it if you don’t.

            2. Nine minutes of passion for you, nine months of work for her.

              1. Nine minutes seconds of passion for you, nine months of work for her.

                FTFY.

              2. And then eighteen years of work for you again.

          2. Purposefully not having kids should be an automatic entry into the Darwin awards.

            1. And yet, there’s a high correlation between one’s support of Darwin and one’s support of birth control and population control.

          3. Without in any way minimizing what a pregnant woman goes through, I will note that living with one is also interesting.

  6. “…but didn’t worry too much about the niggling technical details either.”
    _

    “niggling” is a kissing cousin of that other N-word…which is racisst…so the entire article can be dismissed outta hand.

    1. Niggling, present participle of niggle (itself a cognate of niggard), is from the Old Norse nigla and/or nugla and was first attested in 1599. Its use predates nigger (an American corruption of words derived from the Latin adjective niger) by at least 200 years.

      1. Wait, “niggling” isn’t a synonym for “pickaninny”?

        1. I should probably feel bad that that made me laugh.

          1. Who knew etymology could be hilarious AND racist?!?!? Awesomeness prevails!!!!!

      2. He’s referring to “niggardly”, not “nigger”. Google you up some david howard + niggardly.

    2. Racism straight up.

  7. don’t be niggardly with your criticism

    1. cant help myself, the article niggles me.

  8. our data show that many parents knowingly allow their children to lie about their age ? in fact, often help them to do so ? in order to gain access to age?restricted sites in violation of those sites’ ToS.

    How dumb are these kids that they can’t enter the right year to seem old enough without their parent’s help?

    1. It’s not so much that they’re dumb.
      It’s that they go to government schools.

    2. We’re raising a generation of kids who won’t be able to find free porn on the internet. I weep for my country.

  9. The result? These companies continue to collect potentially sensitive data about children under 13,

    Minor nitpick. The companies don’t collect data about children under 13, they save data voluntarily provided to them by children and parents lying about their age.

    1. That doesn’t mean they aren’t collecting it. No one said that they were collecting anything that wasn’t freely offered.

      1. It’s just a nitpick I have with the semantics. When NPR reports (for example) that Facebook is “collecting data on underage kids”, that conjures the idea that Social Networking sites are mining data sitting in some other place which unwittingly becomes part of the facebook database.

        It’s like saying the telephone pole outside my house is collecting data about upcoming concerts.

        1. Yeah, I see what you mean. A lot of people do seem to imply sinister motives when they use terms like that.

  10. All this is just crony capitalism. Social media gets the government to pass an age law, and so everyone that lies about their age is committing fraud. If they are victimized due to the actions of the social media site, then their ability to sue is undercut by the fact they defrauded the site.

    It’s no different than the state policy of piss testing you if you have an accident at work. Two-fold upside: They don’t have to worker’s comp you for getting crushed by a forklift because you smoked a little weed two weeks ago, or you never report an injury because who knows what they’ll find.

    1. You’re so cynical. I like the way you think.

    2. I think the law was passed before there was any of this antisocial media stuff.

      (I call it antisocial media because I find that the ubiquitous “like” buttons on websites tend to be severe memory hogs. H&R is particularly bad in this regard.)

  11. My cat has a facebook page, Alas, I had to lie about his age, and report it as cat years.

    1. I think my cat has been reading my diary!

  12. It’s driven me to lie. Whenever I see some site with an age verification dropdown, somehow I end up being born in a random year early last century on January 1st. I reckon that makes me a felon. Shiny.

    1. I welcomed the 20th century in with my birth. The Great Depression wasn’t easy, but the women were loose.

    2. Heh. Same here. It’s faster to pick a random date than put in your own.

  13. I always lie when providing information to social websites. My facebook page has almost no actual information about me on it.

  14. I was 12 when this law came out and while there wasn’t really social networking yet I easily knew how to bypass age restrictions. I actually feel a little sorry for my parents, I’m sure that parents now are internet literate enough to at least attempt to watch their kids but mine were learning how to use the internet from me. And I damn well wasn’t going to teach them how to catch me looking up naked boobies (“Are you over 18? Yes.” wow, so difficult!).

  15. SHE IS STILL HOT! But, not as hot as Angie Harmon…I am maddly in love with Ms. Harmon (Come and get it Seahorn, I dare ya).

  16. It’s a tremendous series of tubes!

    1. its my tubez & one of these daze im taking em home! go get ur own

  17. this criticism is based on the false premise that we politicians legislate in order to actually achieve objectives, not simply hem and haw about our perpetual responsibility to protect children and thereby appear re-electable.

    By the latter measure, this legislation achieved its purpose nicely.

  18. Sounds like most fairy tale policy. We are going to create something which won’t work and then beat you over the head for not complying with the impossible law for political gain/financial gain. And people don’t get why companies have to lobby?

  19. How are these kids able to create accounts if the site prohibits users under 13? It’s simple enough: They lie about their ages.

    No

    fucking

    WAY.

  20. Wait, “niggling” isn’t a synonym for “pickaninny”?

    MOST EXCELLENT.

    1. That would be niglet

  21. Today I gave my 13 month old the option of choosing either Blitzkrieg Bop or Lolly, Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here on his pad. He chose Lolly four replays to one Bop. Though he may lose a few coolness points there, I’m kind of proud. There is a fairly sophisticated chord melody inside of that song. Whereas Bop is kind of simple. Definitely simple.

  22. I oppose the law as a violation of parental rights, but I think any parent who lets his kid under the age of 13 on the web is a fool.

  23. i’v watched the film, excellent actress

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