In the US, we have a law called Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (Coppa). Passed in 1998 and expanded in 2012, the law prevents online services from collecting any information from or about children under the age of 13. The law is the primary reason why online services require users to be 13 years old to sign up, mostly to prevent having to run multiple sets of signup rules. Recently, the law has caused legal issues for YouTube and privacy concerns for Google Play.
Even services that publicly prevent underage users, like Facebook and Instagram, tend to look the other way when it comes to enforcement. According to a Channel 4 documentary which aired this week, Inside Facebook: Secrets of a Social Network, Facebook's policy on underage enforcement has been to only look into accounts that are reported by another user for being underage. This information was obtained when a reporter for the special became a reviewer for the company via partner CPL Resources.
Following the report, Facebook responded publicly with a release in their newsroom, disputing a number of claims made in the special. One claim they didn't dispute was the policy of only investigating accounts that are reported for being underage. They did, however, clarify an update to this policy, claiming that they are expanding their guidance to include all reported accounts.
We do not allow people under 13 to have a Facebook account. If someone is is reported to us as being under 13, the reviewer will look at the content on their profile (text and photos) to try to ascertain their age. If they believe the person is under 13, the account will be put on a hold and the person will not be able to use Facebook until they provide proof of their age. Since the program, we have been working to update the guidance for reviewers to put a hold on any account they encounter if they have a strong indication it is underage, even if the report was for something else.
If an account is locked for being suspected to be underage, whether because it was reported as such, or investigated because of another report, the process for unlocking it can be a pain. The user, if they are 13 years old or older, have to provide a government-issued ID to prove their age. Of course, if the user is younger than 15 in most states, they might not have a government-issued ID at all and will likely have to use a birth certificate instead.
Either way, expanding their policy to investigate accounts reported for any infraction was an inevitable adjustment. The company has been under intense scrutiny from governments around the world for privacy violations, so increased compliance with a children's privacy law would have happened with or without Channel 4's program.