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Facebook considering tech changes to allow users under 13

Facebook is reportedly pursuing tools that would allow kids under 13 to access the social network with parental supervision.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Facebook is testing several options, including technology that would link a parent's account to their kids, or add controls to let a parent decide who their kids could "friend" or what apps they download.

In a statement, a Facebook spokesman said that "many recent reports have highlighted just how difficult it is to enforce age restrictions on the Internet, especially when parents want their children to access online content and services".

"We are in continuous dialogue with stakeholders, regulators and other policymakers about how best to help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment", the spokesman said.

Facebook is currently restricted to those ages 13 and over, thanks to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which bans websites from collecting information from users under 13. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reviewed COPPA in the hopes of bringing it more in line with the realities of today's Internet-based society, and released several recommendations for how the law might be updated.

COPPA has not been updated since 1998 - before Facebook, Twitter or smartphones. The FTC previously reviewed COPPA in 2005, but made no updates.

During an appearance at last week's D10 conference, FTC chairman John Leibowitz said allowing kids on social networks is a "complicated issue". When asked about the phenomenon of parents letting their kids lie about their ages to access Facebook, Leibowitz had no solution, but said "at least the parent is the gatekeeper there".

In May 2011, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that younger children should be allowed on the site for education purposes. "In the future, software and technology will enable people to learn a lot from their fellow students", Zuckerberg told the NewSchools Summit.

Due to COPPA, however, "we haven't even begun this learning process", Zuckerberg said at the time. "If they're lifted then we'd start to learn what works. We'd take a lot of precautions to make sure that [younger kids] are safe".

A study released around the same time found that about 7.5 million profiles on Facebook are operated by users younger than 13 years old. Facebook currently has about 901 million users, a number that could grow to a billion by year's end.