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A quarter of underage children have social networking profiles, finds study

One in four underage children have profiles on social networking sites, according to research by media regulator Ofcom. The survey found that 25% of eight to 12-year-olds surveyed have a social networking profile.29 Mar 2010

Children under 13 are not allowed to have a profile on the major platforms, including Facebook, Bebo and MySpace, under those sites' terms of use.

The under-age users of the social networking sites, though, appear to be privacy-literate and aware of the potential dangers of having such a presence. Ofcom said that 83% of them allow only their friends to see their profile. Though it found that 11% of those children allowed anyone to view their profile, 4% made their profiles impossible to see.

The Ofcom research, its annual study into children's media literacy, found that the parents of 17% of the owners of social networking profiles had no idea their children were using the sites. When parents become aware of the use they monitor it, the study found; 93% of parents who were aware of the use monitored the child's usage, it said.

Children under 13 are barred from using social networking sites and specifically protected when it comes to sophisticated online marketing because of fears that they will be exploited by unscrupulous individuals or companies who might abuse their trust and credulity.

Earlier this month the Committee of Advertising Practice published a new advertising code which said that companies must not collect the data of the under-12s using online advertising systems without parental consent.

The Direct Marketing Association has its own rules, saying that data should not be collected without parental consent from anyone under 16.

The Ofcom study showed that children overall were increasing their participation in online social networking. It found that 70% of 12 to 15 year olds had a profile, compared to 52% in 2008. Those users are becoming more privacy conscious: 78% of 12 to 15 year olds now restrict access to their profiles only to their friends, as compared to 59% in 2008, Ofcom said.

The study found that a sizable minority of children have access to the internet in their bedrooms, where parental supervision is less likely to take place. It found that 12% of eight to 11 year olds and 31% of 12 to 15 year olds have internet access in their rooms.

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