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Parents beware: Facebook loosens privacy settings for minors

Facebook is enabling public posting for minors, in a move viewed as a means to expand its user base for gathering data for advertisers. Will user privacy be compromised, especially among the young set?

Teen using computer

In a move that is likely to bring in criticism to the social network, Facebook is now allowing minors — users aged between 13 and 17 — to post their status updates, photos and other content to the public.

While the social network previously limited access to teenagers’ content to within their circle of friends, the move to allow public content is seen as a means to increase engagement, as well as attract more advertising money. Until recently, Facebook’s policy was for users below 17 years of age to only have limited access to post privacy options. These could either restrict their content to themselves (private), friends only, or friends-of-friends. In contrast, users who are of age (18 and above) could also share content with the rest of the world (public).

In Facebook’s announcement of the new settings update, the company said it wants to expand the audience for this sector of society who wants to have a voice. “Teens are among the savviest people using social media, and whether it comes to civic engagement, activism, or their thoughts on a new movie, they want to be heard.”

The company expects that not everyone will choose to enable this option, however. “While only a small fraction of teens using Facebook might choose to post publicly, this update now gives them the choice to share more broadly, just like on other social media services,” it added.

With this update, teenagers will also be able to turn on their “follow” feature, so that Facebook users who are not within their circle of friends can also read the public posts they share.

To ensure safety and security, Facebook will pop up reminders whenever minor users set a post’s privacy to “public” saying this is part of Facebook’s aim to improve the way teenagers use the platform and connect with people they may know. “We take the safety of teens very seriously, so they will see an extra reminder before they can share publicly.”

On NBC News, however, writer Helen Popkin noted that while teens do exhibit savvy when it comes to technology and social networking, teens are found less likely to be concerned about receiving advertising messages than adults, which might mean better reception toward ads, sponsored posts and other commercial updates will.

The settings change will not affect previous posts, and users will have to do this change manually. The social network still does require that users are at least 13 years of age before being able to sign up, although persistent users who are younger can still find workarounds to this limitation quite easily.

Source: Facebook

J. Angelo Racoma
J. Angelo Racoma has written extensively about mobile, social media, enterprise apps and startups. Angelo develops business case studies for Microsoft enterprise applications and services. He is also co-founder at WorkSmartr, a small outsourcing team.

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