Facebook's information kidnapping

Facebook must be deperate if it's thinking about letting under-13s onto the site and there are two things to ponder here: should kids be online in the first place and is Facebook the right venue for them?

Crikey

Facebook is in talks with the federal government about plans to allow under-13s onto the site, reports The Australian. Facebook is "under fire" for "setting its sights" on your kids, cliches Fairfax. Cliches is so a verb. But wait. Haven't we been here before?

Ah yes. Here's what I wrote in May last year: Facebook for under-13s? Who's kidding whom here?

There's two threads to unravel here. One is whether children under-13 should be interacting online. The other is whether Facebook can be trusted to provide the venue.

On the first point I'll be blunt. If you reckon under-13s shouldn't be interacting online, then you're an idiot. What you're really saying is that you want to destroy our children's ability to cope with life."

I'm sticking by that comment. Children need to learn to interact and socialise, whether online or offline. They learn about life through the rough and tumble of making mistakes, getting a few scratches, and carrying on. By learning to be resilient.

The online realm is a fact of our existence now. Do you really want to delay these basic life lessons until kids are 13?

The reality is that under-13s already use Facebook. Some 200,000 Australian kids are already there, according to some estimates, with or without their parents' knowledge. It makes sense to turn that illicit use into something that's properly set up for the under-13s.

Facebook is suggesting tools that allow parents to monitor their kids' activities, and that seems fair enough -- provided that there's also a mechanism for kids to communicate privately to police or other support should their parents be the true danger in their lives.

Nothing has changed there in the past year -- except that children and everyone else have all been using social networking tools for another year, and society still hasn't crumbled.

What has changed in the past year is the other thread.

Facebook's attitude to privacy hasn't changed. Its business model is still predicated on persuading you to reveal more and more of your personal information. Tools such as the Facebook Timeline, which make it easier for people to dig into your past, are introduced whether you want to use them or not. There's no easy way to find and delete the material you now regret.

Not that Facebook actually deletes the information it has on you. It merely "hides" it. From you, at least, not from its own data mining.

But what has changed is Facebook's imperative to make money. It's now far more urgent than before. Since floating on May 18 the company's share price has dropped from the initial $38 to about $26 today. And now the lawsuits are flying because the company's earnings estimate was downgraded during the IPO roadshow without, it's alleged, telling all the potential buyers. The Wall Street Journal calls it a fiasco.

Facebook has always needed new revenue streams to justify its market valuation. Now it must surely be desperate.

"Hello, I'm from Facebook. May I have your children?"

This story first appeared on www.crikey.com.au on June 6. Republished with permission.

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