Soapbox

Amazon and Facebook have fake parental consent. California should require a real one

A girl looks at Facebook on her computer in Palo Alto. A bill before the Legislature would strengthen parental consent rules.
A girl looks at Facebook on her computer in Palo Alto. A bill before the Legislature would strengthen parental consent rules. AP file

Like every father, I think my daughter is the most amazing child in the world. Brilliant, funny and insightful, she will surpass me in every way.

But she is still a child, my responsibility. She doesn’t go to the mall or to a sleepover without permission from me or her mom.

Ed Howard.JPG
Ed Howard

Amazon and Facebook, however, are operating on the honor system when it comes to verifying age and obtaining parental consent.

Buried in Facebook’s user agreement is fine print for parental permission for the controversial social media company to profit from my child’s face and name by selling their use to third parties: “If you are under the age of eighteen (18), you represent that a parent or legal guardian also agrees to this … on your behalf.”

Common sense and a minimal respect for parents could be on the way. Assembly Bill 2511, which will be heard Tuesday by the Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection, would make this form of bogus parental consent illegal.

It doesn’t micromanage Internet innovation by writing in law exactly what kind of consent is required. The bill, introduced by Assemblyman Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park, just says companies have to do better.

Opinion

Far more alarming than Facebook for parents is how Amazon handles products that are illegal to sell to minors. As documented by a Sacramento TV news station, a 14-year old boy was recently able to purchase a BB gun that looked just like a Glock, throwing knives, and a hunting knife from Amazon, all without his parents’ knowledge.

In California it is illegal for someone under 18 years of age to purchase a BB gun. Yet the boy used a gift card to buy these items because there was no meaningful parental consent, or a way to check his age.

Drug paraphernalia, pornography, spray paint and many other items are available on Amazon that are unlawful to sell to children.

Amazon’s parental consent is this: “If you are under 18, you may use the … Services only with involvement of a parent or guardian.”

No brick-and-mortar store could ever get away with selling alcohol to a kid like this. In my day we at least had to try to lie to someone to buy alcohol.

The bottom line is this: My daughter is still a child. Every reputable business – especially corporate giants like Facebook and Amazon -- should honor my role as her dad.

Ed Howard is senior counsel at the Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law. He can be contacted at ed.howard@sandiego.edu.
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