Father: Why Isn't Facebook Keeping My Kid Off Its Site?

from the parenting-is-for-losers dept

Facebook is a fascinating study in how different countries around the world deal with forward technology and the internet as a whole. It really is something of a Rorschach Test of each nation's legal system and process. We've heard recently how Germany nixed Facebook's "Like" button. UK officials had the brilliant idea that rioters would go back to sipping Earl Grey tea instead of throwing things at other things, if only they weren't on those intoxicating social networking sites. Meanwhile, in America, teachers in Missouri had to sue for the privilege of friending their students (because we might be able to trust these teachers to be in direct contact with our children, but not on the scary internet!).

And now reader Paddy Duke alerts us to the story of a Northern Irishman and his quest to get Facebook to keep his 12 year old daughter off its site. Because, really, who else could possibly accomplish such a feat? He is apparently suing Facebook for negligence.

The issue is that this gentleman's 12 year old daughter didn't tell Facebook she was 12. She said she was older, thereby routing around Facebook's age policy. Then she posted reportedly racy photos of herself along with other personal information, such as her home address and the name of her school. The kicker is that she did at least some of this while in the care of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust facility, which appears to be primarily an institution for children and the elderly who are suffering from mental health issues.

I have two questions. First, if Facebook is negligent in allowing her to use their site, what word should we use for this father also allowing her to use the site and not stopping her unwanted behavior? Supernegligent? Negultragent?

Secondly, what's the solution here? Any age check done by Facebook is going to be porous at best. The linked BBC article has a quote from this Father-Of-The-Year candidate's solicitor (attorney):
"An age check, like asking for a passport number would be a simple measure for Facebook to implement."
If it's so simple, I'd love to see this attorney take a crack at it. Passport numbers wouldn't work for a variety of reasons. First, you're potentially depriving Facebook of a swath of users who don't have passports. I recognize this is probably less of a concern in Europe, but it's still an issue. Also, what's to keep children from swiping their parent's passports to create accounts? This 12 year old girl already routed around her father's attempt to shut down her Facebook page. Do we really think she would have stopped at the "Input Passport Number Here" field, thrown up her hands, and went back to playing with dolls and sugersnaps or whatever her father imagines her doing if only she'd had real parents?

And why should Facebook have to implement such a system, paying the costs for doing so, all so parents don't have to parent? I'm not a father, which I recognize some will use to say that I just don't understand the trials and tribulations of raising children in the internet era. They're wrong. I do understand all that. That's why I'm not a parent. I know I'm not ready for that responsibility just yet. But if I ever do have children, I'll be sure not to take a website to court to cash in on my being asleep at the wheel.

Filed Under: blame, liability
Companies: facebook

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2011 @ 12:14pm

    Re: [Comment #5]

    And how to you suppose Facebook go about making sure people are as old as they say they are? Should they have access to a dynamic database containing everyone (in the world's no doubt) ID number that's over the age of 13? What about countries that have other laws making that age different? What about places that don't have such information? What about Facebook pages for people who don't actually exist or are stage names? Those are just some of the theoretical problems to that plan.

    As for practical problems, each ID would have to be stored in Unicode because god forbid someone doesn't use Arabic numerals or has letters and numbers. UTF-8 uses up to 4 bytes per character, and at least a single byte for ASCII characters. Let's assume each ID is 16 characters long (this is probably a low guess, my drivers license uses 18), which cranks us up to 16-64 bytes per ID. We'll assume about 1 billion (probably 1/5 of what's true) people in the world have some kind of ID. So now we're at 16-64 billion bytes, or ~16-64 GB. This is a theoretical low end of the side requirements of a simple database on low assumptions. 16-64 GB isn't a small amount of data to search through, even with optimized searching the bandwidth would be through the roof and the service would probably be pretty slow. Also keeping said database constantly up to date wouldn't be practical at best.

    Checking a physical ID is easy in real life, because it's hard to fake. It's ungodly easy to fake who you are online, and an "Internet ID" would be as easily faked as they come.

    Now if you have a plan that doesn't involve being A) easy to fake and B) impractical at best, feel free to offer up a solution.

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