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Facebook eyes strict controls for under-13 access, report says

The world's largest social network is reportedly getting ready to open its service to preteens, but parents would have ultimate control over that experience.

The debate over whether Facebook should allow kids under the age of 13 to join its site might soon be moot.

The world's largest social network is close to allowing children under 13 to sign up for the social network, but those kids shouldn't expect to have the same rights as all others, according to the Wall Street Journal. The publication is reporting today, citing sources who have discussed the topic with Facebook executives, that the social network is testing features that would limit a child's ability to do what they want, when they want on the site.

Among the features being tested, according to the Journal, is a function that would link a child's account to their parents', so it can be readily controlled. In addition, Facebook is reportedly eyeing a way to allow parents to decide whether their child will be allowed to "friend" another individual. Access to applications and games will also be determined by parents, the Journal's sources say.

Rumors have been surfacing for some time that Facebook, which currently bans kids under the age of 13 from joining its site, was looking to change its policy. A couple of weeks ago, the Sunday Times reported, citing Facebook's U.K. head of policy Simon Milner, that "under-13s may be let into (the) Facebook fold."

Of course, thinking that they're not already there would be a mistake. Back in April, Minor Monitor revealed the results of a study it conducted that found that 38 percent of the kids on Facebook are 12 years of age or younger. What's more, 4 percent of the kids are 6 years old or less.

Although some of that is due to kids lying about their age, parents might also be to blame. In fact, back in November, a peer-reviewed study, called "Why Parents Help Their Children lie to Facebook About Age: Unintended Consequences of the 'Children's Online Privacy Protection Act,'" found that "many parents knowingly allow their children to lie about their age -- in fact, often help them to do so -- in order to gain access to age-restricted sites in violation of those sites' terms of service."

Still, don't expect Facebook's possible decision to allow under-13s on its site to go down without a fight. And judging by the Journal's report, Facebook seems to be attempting to head off any major complaints by instituting the controls.

CNET has contacted Facebook for comment on the Journal's report. We will update this story when we have more information.