Facebook has a responsibility problem

Enforce your policies, reduce your risk.


This is not your typical rant against Facebook that has recently become so common in the media. Sure, there are issues with privacy policies and such, but I always keep in mind that it doesn't cost any money to use Facebook.

I'm also not going to talk about the myriad security issues associated with the site. I hear them every day from all of you. Facebook, like other social media sites, is a vector for malware, a wellhead for data leakage and a time suck when it comes to employee productivity.

What I am going to talk about, however, is policy and responsibility: the obligation to create clear policies and to offer some reasonable controls to enforce those policies.

As with any good, open site, Facebook has explicit policies for usage that define who can use the site, how it can be used, and so on. One requirement is that a person must be at least 14 years old to open a Facebook account. Seems simple enough. But some kids-imagine this!-lie about their age!

As anyone with children can attest, monitoring your kids online is difficult at best. Monitoring their actions on social media sites when you don't use the sites yourself or aren't even aware that your children are using them is next to impossible. As Facebook becomes an increasingly attractive vector for attacks and exploitation, those who least understand the risks are the most vulnerable.

But is Facebook's policy enforced? It's certainly very difficult, from Facebook's perspective, to enforce the minimum-age rule, and thus it relies on self-attestation. But a child wanting to violate that policy needs only lie. So Facebook also has a mechanism whereby someone can report a violation of this policy. Great idea, except before you can drop a dime on someone, you need to friend that person and see what network he or she belongs to. I don't know many 10-year-olds who would happily accept a friend request from a parent, granting full access to their profiles.

The control mechanism is fatally flawed and it's clear to me, an educated observer, that this policy is really just smoke and mirrors that offer Facebook plausible deniability. I get that. But we're talking about our kids here, and standards need to be much higher.

I contacted Facebook several times for comment on this issue and received no response.

In our businesses, the issue here is one of policy enforcement. We all have acceptable use policies addressing a variety of issues. But when policies are not enforced, or are structured in a way that makes them hollow, they aren't worth the paper they're written on and provide little protection against violations or liabilities.

You need to enforce your policies with reasonable controls to ensure compliance and reduce risk. Facebook needs to do the same.

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