The US Patent and Trademark Office published, on May 29, 2014, a patent application submitted by inventors from Facebook directed to a method for managing the accessibility of a social network based on the age of its users. In referencing the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) directly, Facebook’s patent application suggests that Facebook may soon officially open its service to users under the age of 13.  Many social networks, including Facebook, currently bar users under a particular age because COPPA requires parental consent for many of the actions such a user may take.  For example, geolocation information or the tagging of a photo by another may require a parent to consent to the post.

See Norton Rose Fulbright’s briefing on the FTC’s expanded COPPA regulations.

Facebook’s patent application addresses COPPA by linking a child user to his or her parent’s Facebook account. Upon authorization by the parent, Facebook would open an account for the child. According to one embodiment disclosed in the patent application, the parent would be notified of, and be able to prevent the child user from accessing, certain features and activity such as joining groups, adding friends, or being tagged in a photo. In addition, Facebook could further restrict access to the child user’s content by other Facebook users.

According to Facebook’s patent application, certain of the methods disclosed therein would also address the proposed bill entitled Forbidding Advertisement Through Child Exploitation Act of 2013.

Seth Jaffe ( / +1 713 651 5370) is an associate in Norton Rose Fulbright’s Intellectual Property Practice Group.