Facebook provides several options for users to specify who can access the information displayed on their profile. Until recently, Facebook provided enhanced privacy protection for its most vulnerable users: teens under age 17. Privacy setting options for those ages 13 through 17 were limited to allowing access to “friends” and “friends of friends.”
Facebook states that it will continue to protect sensitive information such as school and birth date for teens. However, all information on Facebook that is publicly available can be accessed and used by others. For example, a marketing company could access a publicly available vacation photograph posted by a teen and use it in an advertisement. Further, teens’ Facebook profiles can be found through general Internet searches, such as through a Google search.
Research has shown that many older adolescents who use Facebook claim to understand privacy issues yet still choose to display large amounts of personal information (
Thus, it is important for parents to work with their teens on setting and updating privacy settings.
While privacy settings can protect adolescents’ online information from other users, it also is important to note that these settings may not provide protection from companies accessing this information. In June 2014, Facebook announced it would draw information from other websites about its users to inform the advertisement choices provided to users. Facebook has defended its actions by stating that these practices already are in place by many competing websites. This policy change means that advertisers can access information about users from other websites.
The Academy supports efforts to protect the safety and privacy of adolescents online and opposes children and adolescents being treated as adults when it comes to data collection and targeted marketing.
While other social media sites also allow teens to bypass stricter privacy settings, Facebook has uniquely positioned itself to take full commercial advantage of the social interactions of adolescents on its online platforms.
Further, safety risks to teens on Facebook are now greater than ever before. While this generation of teens often is considered “digital natives” as they’ve grown up in the era of Web 2.0, studies suggest that overestimation of their own safety and confusion about privacy settings are the norm.
The Academy and other child advocacy groups object to Facebook’s privacy setting changes affecting teens that took effect in October 2013. A coalition of 20 groups, including the Academy, raised concerns about the potential for negative effects in a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The letter asked the FTC to take a close look at this and other proposed Facebook changes.
Parents are faced with an opportunity and an obligation to learn about privacy on social networking sites.
Parents should schedule regular “check-ins” with their teens to review their social media profiles and privacy settings.
Parents can emphasize boundaries and selectivity in choosing what information should be shared online and that teens should view any information they post as publicly available despite privacy settings.
Parents can make these efforts part of their Family Media Use Plan (http://bit.ly/1D2PN8l).
Pediatricians can help prompt these discussions as part of anticipatory guidance.
Pediatricians can give families handouts about making a Family Media Use Plan.
If families ask for advice about the age at which their child should get a Facebook account, pediatricians can:
emphasize that the minimum age is 13;
help them understand the benefits and risks to having a profile; and
discuss the responsibilities that a Facebook profile brings for both teens and parents.
Pediatricians can support public policies that protect the online privacy of minors.