Reason for Facebook's Age Limit

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg speaking with a microphone

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Have you ever tried to create a Facebook account and gotten this error message:

"You are ineligible to sign up for Facebook"?

If so, it's very likely you don't meet Facebook's age limit.

Facebook and other online social media sites and email services are prohibited by federal law from allowing children under 13 create accounts without the consent of their parents or legal guardians.

If you were baffled after being turned away by Facebook's age limit, there's a clause right there in the "Statement of Rights and Responsibilities" you accept when you create a Facebook account: "You will not use Facebook if you are under 13."

Age Limit for Gmail and Yahoo!

The same goes for web-based email services including Google's Gmail and Yahoo! Mail.​

If you're not 13 years old, you'll get this message when trying to sign up for a Gmail account:

"Google could not create your account. In order to have a Google Account, you must meet certain age requirements."

If you're under the age of 13 and try to sign up for a Yahoo! Mail account, you'll also be turned away with this message:

"Yahoo! is concerned about the safety and privacy of all its users, particularly children. For this reason, parents of children under the age of 13 who wish to allow their children access to the Yahoo! Services must create a Yahoo! Family Account."

Federal Law Sets Age Limit

So why do Facebook, Gmail, and Yahoo! ban users under 13 without parental consent? They're required to under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal law passed in 1998.

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act has been updated since it was signed into law, including revisions that attempt to address the increased use of mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads and social networking services including Facebook and Google+.

Among the updates was a requirement that website and social media services cannot collect geolocation information, photographs or videos from users under the age of 13 without notifying and receiving consent from parents or guardians.

How Some Youths Get Around the Age Limit

Despite Facebook's age requirement and federal law, millions of underage users are known to have created accounts and maintain Facebook profiles. They do so by lying about their age, often times with full knowledge of their parents.

In 2012, published reports estimated some 7.5 million children had Facebook accounts of the 900 million people who were using the social network at the time. Facebook said the number of underage users highlighted "just how difficult it is to enforce age restrictions on the Internet, especially when parents want their children to access online content and services."

Facebook allows users to report children under the age of 13. "Note that we'll promptly delete the account of any child under the age of 13 that's reported to us through this form," the company states. Facebook is also working on a system that would allow children under 13 to create an account that would be linked to those held by their parents.

Is the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act Effective?

Congress intended the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act to protect youths from predatory marketing as well as stalking and kidnapping, both of which became more prevalent as access to the Internet and personal computers grew, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which is responsible for enforcing the law.

But many companies have merely limited their marketing efforts toward users age 13 and older, meaning that children who lie about their age are very to be subjected to such campaigns and the use of their personal information.

In 2010, a Pew Internet survey found that:

Teens continue to be avid users of social networking websites – as of September 2009, 73% of online American teens ages 12 to 17 used an online social network website, a statistic that has continued to climb upwards from 55% in November 2006 and 65% in February 2008.