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Why Facebook wants teens to go public

Girls show their Facebook walls on their mobile devices.

Before today, Facebook users under 18 could only share their posts with friends or friends of friends. But not anymore. For all of our teenage readers, you now have the option of making your posts public -- including to a whole bunch of companies who are dying to sell you stuff.

Facebook hopes the policy change can lure teens back to the social networking site, who are heading to other social media outlets. One reason for the exodus: Everyone and their mom has a Facebook account. Posting something your whole family can see isn't ideal for some teens.

And there lies a conundrum, teens want privacy on one hand, but they also want to be heard, according to Jay Baer, author of "Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help Not Hype." "You have to realize the world of a teen is relatively small," says Baer. "And social media and social networking make their world a lot, lot bigger." 

The problem with Facebook's old privacy policy was that teens could only get likes and comments from friends and friends of friends. "It's much more interesting, certainly for my children and other teens, when they get likes and shares and comments and interactions from people that they don't know," says Baer.

It's those strangers interacting with teens on Facebook that worry Dr. Wendy Patrick, a business ethics lecturer and sex crimes prosecutor. "Everything from cyber bullies, to cyber stalkers, to cyber predators can now view personal information of teenagers," Patrick says.

She worries that the privacy changes could make teenagers more vulnerable on the web. But, Baer thinks that ultimately this is not so much an age issue as it is a personal data one. "It's not about teens. It's about reaching Julie, the 15-year-old in Des Moines, and understanding all the things that Julie cares about and sending her the perfect ad at the perfect time," Baer says. "What that requires is data."

The privacy changes could produce a flood of data for marketers looking to get a share of teen spending, which according to the research firm TRU is worth more than $800 billion worldwide.

About the author

David Weinberg is a general assignment reporter at Marketplace.
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