|Alarming ... according to cyber security expert Susan McLean, Facebook gossip sites have "exploded in the last two or three months".|
Facebook' Could Become Adults Only - Ways to force Facebook to give parents access to their kids' profiles will be discussed today by state and federal attorneys-general in a meeting that will also examine an 18+ Facebook age limit.
The idea was first proposed by a South Australian Family First MP, Dennis Hood, and is being championed by South Australian Attorney-General John Rau. Rau argued that giving parents assistance to supervise their children on Facebook would help protect against online predators and limit access to unsuitable material.
But Susan McLean, who was Victoria Police's first cyber safety officer and is now an online safety consultant, said the proposal was “ill informed and it shows a total lack of understanding of what the internet is”.
“It's not Facebook's fault that there are problems on Facebook. You can't legislate against stupidity or poor parenting or anything like that,” said McLean.
“It would be nice but it can't be done and it breaks down any level of trust that you should be trying to develop with your kids.”
At their meeting today, the country's top lawmakers will consider requiring proof of age checks and even raising the age limit to 18, federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland confirmed.
This would be at stark odds with recent comments from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who floated the idea of removing the 13 minimum sign-up age policy.
“Age verification is something that various platforms deal with and I can't see why it should be beyond the wit of Facebook to do the same thing, if that was the solution people wanted,” said Rau.
“I think people need to understand that just because they are operating in the virtual world, that is on the internet, it does not mean that there should not be boundaries or rules or standards of behaviour.
“Exactly how these boundaries and rules should be applied and enforced is a matter that we need to discuss.”
It is unclear how the attorneys-general could apply such regulations to Facebook given it is a US-based company. Rau said changing the rules on access to Facebook would require cooperation from operators and the federal government would need to use its communications powers.
McClelland said yesterday it would be Rau's task to come up with methods of implementing the restrictions.
He said Rau made a fair point as “there has been concern expressed by some parents that the images being put up by their own children are prejudicial to their future career prospects”.
“I think that all Attorneys recognise it as a legitimate issue to raise and … John having raised it, will be tasked … to come back with a few suggested solutions,” said McClelland.
“Having Australian jurisdiction extend off shore is the challenge. That's not to say a bit of discussion can't get some goodwill. Hopefully we will be able to look at a few options.”
Asked whether the issue could be solved simply by parents sitting down with their children, rather than with new regulations, McClelland agreed that this would be a preferable approach.
“Having said that, I have four kids, not in every situation can we reach an accommodation so I can understand some parents have raised the issue,” he said.
But McLean said implementing the proposals would be impossible.
“Say we get this law that says parents are allowed to access their kids facebook accounts, how am I going to prove that I'm your mother?,” she said.
“It's totally unworkable because there is nothing on the internet that allows anyone to age and identity verify anyone, so that's where it's going to fall down in the first place.
“Secondly, American companies aren't necessarily obliged to obey Australian law. Thirdly, tech savvy kids will set up two accounts – here's the one mum can see and here's the one where I do whatever it is I wanna do on it.”
Stephen Collins, spokesman for the online users' lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia, agreed with McLean that any restrictions would be difficult to enforce.
"We'd very much prefer a social and educational approach - teach people good privacy practice, make it easy for them, educate about acceptable behaviors (e.g. why should online behaviors be different in terms of what we accept from those in the physical world?)," he said.
"So too, a parental right to access that is any greater than exists in law now (such as access to medical details for 16-18 year olds) seems heavy-handed."
Comment is being sought from Facebook. The site counts about 10 million Australian users, or almost half the population.
At the meeting today the attorneys-general will also discuss whether to allow an R18+ rating for video games. The federal government is a vocal supporter of the change but has had difficulty convincing some states that it won't result in a stream of ultra-violent and sexualised games flooding the market.
Privacy is also on the agenda after the government raised the idea of a statutory right to privacy following the hacking scandal that has engulfed News Corporation.
Ways to deal with the online publication of suppressed legal material will also be discussed. Rau said it was clear that suppression orders – which prevent media from reporting details of court cases - were being undermined by social networking sites. ( Sydney Morning Herald/KOMPAS.com)