The Most Useless Cybersafety Law

September 3, 2016

I live just outside of Philadelphia.  Up until recently, the speed limit on the Pennsylvania Turnpike was 65 MPH.  It recently was raised to 70 MPH. 

 

People’s initial reaction to the new speed limit ranged from saying that it’s about time the speed limit matched what people were driving anyway to saying that it will just mean that people will drive even faster.  From what I’ve seen driving it almost daily, there is some real truth to that last opinion.

 

The minimum age to use most social media sites is 13.  That’s the result of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, also known as COPPA.  While signed in 1998, the law went into effect on April 21st, 2000.  It is governed by the Federal Trade Commission because of the amount of interstate commerce that takes place online.

 

It forbids companies from collecting data on users of its sites if they are below the age of 13 without verifiable parental consent.  Because of it, companies like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., have a minimum age requirement of 13 before people are allowed to use it.  Outside of the speed limit laws in this country, it may be the most broken law in the country.  This poses serious issues about privacy and cyber safety for our children.

 

The most important point to the previous paragraph is that it requires verifiable parental consent. This is where there is often an issue that makes the COPPA ineffective in doing what it was intended to do: protect our children from online dangers.

 

A year after the act went into effect, the FTC declared that, “… the types and amounts of information collected by websites are more limited than they used to be, suggesting a heightened awareness of the safety and privacy concerns about collecting information from children.”

 

I couldn’t disagree more!  Yes, there have been cases where the FTC has punished companies that haven’t met the requirements of the law, but the companies are easily duped, by no fault of their own.  My experience tells me that the law is too easy to get around, simply by lying to the sites when an account is created.  I have yet to see any social media site that requires verifiable proof of age before allowing someone to open an account.  The only verification I have ever been asked for is an email link which must be clicked to confirm the email address.

 

This is a problem because many companies that create websites now rely on other social media sites’ age verification to save themselves from having to ask about a user’s age themselves.  Look at the image below to sign into hootsuite, a great tool for people that want help juggling their content on various social media sites.

 

 

It accepts the credentials of Facebook, Twitter or Google+ as alternatives to opening up an account directly with hootsuite.  This is become more common, not only with websites, but with apps as well.  Up until recently, anyone using Facebook could use Tinder, the app known for casual dating and hook-ups.  Starting back in June, Tinder, which uses Facebook credentials to use their app, decided that if the Facebook user’s age was below 18, they would no longer allow them to use their site

 

That’s great if everyone who uses Facebook tells their actual age.  The problem is that many children don’t tell the truth.  Consumer Reports indicated back in 2011 that there are over seven million kids under the age of 12 who were using Facebook.  Yes, that’s five years ago, but why would it have changed?  If anything, I expect the number has increased as more people feel that underage use of social media is acceptable.

 

The only way that could have happened is if they lied to Facebook and said that they were at least 13 years old.  If they’re lying about being over the age of 12 or if they’re 13 or older, could they also lie about being at least 18 years old?

 

Obviously, the answer is yes.  And that scares me plenty!  Awhile back, I was doing research for an article on Tinder.  What I found there is not what I’d want a pre-teen to see.  One group from Australia created “The Tinder Experiment” to see how easy it would be to lure in men who expected that they were really meeting a younger girl.  They used a woman named Imogen, who created a profile that clearly indicated that she was 15, despite what her profile indicated.  In reality, she was 21 and using pictures of herself that were several years old.  But this kind of deception is not unheard of on Tinder.  Look at the screen shot I took from someone’s profile that the app tried to connect me with.  Is this the kind of person that parents of young teenage boy would want them to meet?  Of course, that assumes that this profile is real and not a lure to attract victims.

 

What’s the answer?  Clearly, laws alone will never be enough to stop people from breaking the law or violating the terms and conditions of using social media sites.  The best idea is for parental involvement in their children’s online activities.  Of course, they should be involved in all aspects of their children’s lives, but few others have the risks associated with them that online dangers pose.

 

I realize that it can be difficult for parents to talk about social media with their kids.  Here are some opening questions to get the conversation started.  Good luck!

 

About the Author

Joe Yeager is the founder of Safety Net of PA, LLC and has been a cyber safety advocate for several years.  He is an adjunct professor at Philadelphia University, where has been teaching several classes that involve using technology to improve the quality of their schoolwork.

 

As the founder of Safety Net, Joe provides a variety of presentations on improving the online experience, both in better educational performance and in cyber safety.  It was after his own daughter came across inappropriate content online that got him involved in helping others in the area.

 

His work on cyber safety has been published by the Family Online Safety Institute, the Social Media Club, Calkins Media and more.  He is also the author of #DigitalParenting- A Parent's Guide to Social Media, Cyberbullying &Online Activity, which was chosen as an Editor’s Pick in April 2016.

 

About the Author

Joe Yeager is the founder of Safety Net of PA, LLC and has been a cyber safety advocate for several years.  He is an adjunct professor at Philadelphia University, where has been teaching several classes that involve using technology to improve the quality of their schoolwork.

 

As the founder of Safety Net, Joe provides a variety of presentations on improving the online experience, both in better educational performance and in cyber safety.  It was after his own daughter came across inappropriate content online that got him involved in helping others in the area.

 

His work on cyber safety has been published by the Family Online Safety Institute, the Social Media Club, Calkins Media and more.  He is also the author of #DigitalParenting- A Parent's Guide to Social Media, Cyberbullying & Online Activity, which was chosen as an Editor’s Pick in April 2016.

 

 

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