Free Speech Isn't the Only Reason Facebook Wants Kids 'Liking'

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Facebook says it's protesting online child privacy protection laws that would make it harder for kids to "like" things with the social network. They say they want to encourage kids' freedom of expression, but we bet it also has a lot to do with advertising. Following proposed regulations that for the first time would allow children under 13 on the site with certain parental moderation including getting mom and dad's permission to "like," Facebook wrote the following in a 20-page letter to the Federal Trade Commission: "A government regulation that restricts teens’ ability to engage in protected speech — as the proposed COPPA would do — raises issues under the First Amendment." Facebook has argued this before, in a compelling enough way to get the ACLU's approval. But, considering the motives behind the updates to the Child Online Privacy Protect Act, it sounds like this is less about free speech and more motivated by ad-dollars.

The new updates to COPPA are not only a measure to protect kids who are already online, but aim to specifically limit how much the Internet can track children, as The New York Times's Natasha Singer explained earlier this week. "If the F.T.C. carries out its proposed changes, children’s Web sites would be required to obtain parents’ permission before tracking children around the Web for advertising purposes, even with anonymous customer codes," she wrote. That would apply to the Facebook "like," which beyond a metric for what people like, acts as a way to track user behavior for advertising purposes, as The Wall Street Journal's Anton Troinovski explained last August. He wrote:

Third parties like advertising networks or Facebook that know or have reason to know they are attaching software to children's websites won't be allowed to collect any personal information without first obtaining parental consent. Currently, many websites secure consent by sending an email to an address provided by the child.

Before Facebook went for a different tactic to keep its like away from regulation, saying it "would create more legal certainty for operators and facilitate the development of innovative, engaging online content for teens," in an FTC filing last December. As that was less convincing, it is now going for the First Amendment, hoping that will resonate. 

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Though Facebook has indicated a move away from "likes" as the go-to metric for advertising, they still serve as a lucrative way for the social network to make money. Sponsored Stories, for example, are based on a user liking a brand, which it then turns into a personal endorsement for the product. These have turned into a $1 million per day business. And, they are doing especially well in the mobile market, which is the future after-all. We imagine Facebook wouldn't want to miss out on getting all those new young users as the faces of their favorite brand pages. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.