Facebook invents a method to supervise minor children on social networking websites

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Children under the age of 13 years cannot create an account on Facebook or any other social media site. This is due to Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a United States federal law passed in 1998. The goal of this law is to give control to parents over what information is collected from their minor children online.

Facebook filed a patent application for its invention in this regard. The USPTO published its application on March 21st, 2019.

Facebook notes in its filing that social interaction platforms, such as messaging and group-chat platforms, may allow users to quasi-synchronously interact with one another through a network. Any user may instantly reach out to and communicate with any other user.

For example, one user may search for another user (e.g., by name, location, etc.), request approval from that user to connect, and begin messaging upon approval. A social interaction platform may allow a user to contact strangers and/or be contacted by strangers. Typical platforms provide users with autonomy over whom they interact with. 

A social-networking system, which may include a social-networking website, may enable its users (such as persons or organizations) to interact with it and with each other through it. The social-networking system may, with input from a user, create and store in the social-networking system a user profile associated with the user. The user profile may include demographic information, communication-channel information, and information on personal interests of the user.

The social-networking system may also, with input from a user, create and store a record of relationships of the user with other users of the social-networking system, as well as provide services (e.g., wall posts, photo-sharing, event organization, messaging, games, or advertisements) to facilitate social interaction between or among users. 

The social-networking system may send over one or more networks content or messages related to its services to a mobile or other computing system of a user. A user may also install software applications on a mobile or other computing system of the user for accessing a user profile of the user and other data within the social-networking system. The social-networking system may generate a personalized set of content objects to display to a user, such as a newsfeed of aggregated stories of other users connected to the user. 

The Invention

The invention provides parents control over their children’s online social network and messaging partners. As with users of any other age group, minors (e.g., individuals at or under age 13) may want to socially connect with their friends online through messaging, chat groups, gaming, etc. Guardians (e.g., parents, grandparents, older siblings, legal guardian, etc.) of minors, however, may not feel comfortable giving minors total freedom to connect with anyone they want through social interaction platforms designed for general users.

For instance, guardians may want to ensure that minors do not interact, whether intentionally or unintentionally, with child predators, inappropriate adults, or undesirable peers (e.g., those who are bullies, bad influences, etc.). In other words, guardians may want some degree of control and supervision over whom the minors interact with. 

The invention also provides minors an interaction platform through which they may safely interact (e.g., chat, play games) with individuals who have been approved by their parents/guardians. Through this platform, guardians may serve as gatekeepers and have control over the communications and interactions of minors under their guardianship.

For instance, guardians may limit contacts of the minors to an approved list, thereby ensuring that only age-appropriate content is accessible to the minors. Thus, the platform allows minors to interact with each other while being under the supervision of their respective guardians. 

FIG. 1 illustrates an example method for establishing a connection between a minor and another user. 

Credit: The USPTO

It is unknown at this point when Facebook is going to incorporate this invention in its platform.

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