If, like thousands upon thousands of other parents, you have allowed your under 13-year-old child to be on Instagram, you may well have heard that cry over the weekend.
Why? Because, per its Terms of Service, Instagram does not allow children under the age of 13 to have an account. This is not – contrary to what many are saying – something new. This clause – the one banning under-thirteens from the site - has always been in there.
And it’s not just some Instagram rule, it’s the law. Do you know why? Most parents think it’s because of online predators. Nope. Or because of adult content. Nope. Or even because “kids don’t need social media.” Um. I don’t think so.
It’s because of privacy. The Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act, to be exact. COPPA, as it’s affectionately (not!) knows, is the law that governs the use of children’s information online. It’s illegal for your kid to have Instagram, Facebook, Google, or YouTube accounts because it’s illegal for companies to collect personally identifiable information about your kids without explicit parental consent.
It’s not illegal as in, “they’re going to arrest my child!” but illegal as in – companies who knowingly allow underage kids on their sites are subject to significant fines. Instagram, recently bought for $1 billion (!) by Facebook, is cracking down because Facebook knows it’s under a microscope.
Hence the oodles and oodles of lost selfies, pictures of fourth grade dioramas. and subsequent hysterical ten year olds.
Most people are surprised when they hear that Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and most other social networking sites are not open to children under 13. As a matter of fact, 67% of parents help their kids lie about their age to open a Facebook account. And here’s why that’s a bad idea (aside from the fact that you’re teaching your kid to a) lie online and b) break the law.):
Social Networking sites are not free because they want to be nice to you. They’re free because they support themselves by selling your data. Ever wonder how the ads on your email page just so happen to feature those shoes you were just looking at on Zappos? Ever think “Hmm, Facebook is suddenly showing dentist ads! And just after I posted pictures of me having a root canal!”
Not a coincidence. Social networking sites make money by selling information about you to advertisers and market researchers – what you post, what you’ve searched for, who your friends are.
There isn’t anything WRONG with that. It’s part of the privacy sacrifice we make to get all the “free” services they offer. Sometimes, it’s even convenient – I’d rather see relevant ads than ones for diapers because I’m a mom, or wrinkle creams because I’m over 40. But do you really want “the man” tracking your kids’ behavior? Probably not.
Plus, if you let your kids lie about their age – and open a social media account that says they’re 19 instead of their real (under 13) age, chances are, they’ll start getting irrelevant — possibly inappropriate ads. Dating sites. Booze. Viagra. Enhancement devices.
And about that teaching them to lie online and to break the law at the same time. Really? I mean…really?
So maybe your kid is, as my friend Back in Groove Mom said “screaming as if someone just ripped off his umbilical chord,” over losing his Instagram account and all of his pictures. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Hey, it beats having a kid who asks for a Match.com account, a fifth of whiskey, and an (ahem) enlargement device for his tenth birthday.