Also worth noting is that almost every mobile app available collects some kind of personal data, such as a person's birthdate or the location of their phone, and shares that information with third parties for marketing purposes. While a new regulation by the Federal Trade Commission this year is aimed at keeping advertisers from tracking kids younger than 13, most social media apps require that a person promise to be at least 13 when they sign up, thereby exempting themselves from the tougher privacy restrictions.
Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who is co-chairman of a House caucus that examines privacy issues, said he'd like to see legislation that would give kids under 15 the right to delete photos or texts that wind up elsewhere online. The prospect, however, is unlikely in a Congress dominated by debates on federal spending and gun control, and raises practical questions about how such a law could be enforced.
"I believe that our children have a right to develop, to grow up and to make mistakes," Markey said. "Nobody should be penalized for something they posted when they were 9 years old."
Several consumer advocates actually recommend exposing their kids to social media sites earlier than age 12, when they're more receptive to hearing lessons about online etiquette and safety.
For example, Levey links her kids' devices to her iTunes account so she's aware of any program they download. She also requires that her kids "friend" her on every program and follow certain ground rules: protect your passwords, set your privacy controls and never transmit inappropriate pictures or words.
Levey thinks a big hurdle for parents is getting over the idea that they are invading their kids' privacy by monitoring online activity. In fact, she said, it can be the kid's first lesson that nothing online is truly private anyway.
"If they want privacy, they should write in a journal and hide it under their mattress," Levey said.