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I was just reading the Terms of Service, and noticed something:

Subscriber certifies to Stack Overflow that if Subscriber is an individual (i.e., not a corporate entity), Subscriber is at least 13 years of age. No one under the age of 13 may provide any personal information to or on Stack Overflow (including, for example, a name, address, telephone number or email address).

I signed up for Stack Overflow when I was around 11 or 12 and I did provide my email address. Are you saying that my use of Stack Overflow was not legal?

I'm 13 now (so I'm in the clear), but that just seems a little harsh. Is that possibly related to the age limit for accepting a binding contract/agreement (although I thought that was 18 in the U.S.)?

Is there a way for those under the age of 13 to use the site legally?

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up vote 80 down vote accepted

How do I use Stack Exchange if I'm under 13?

Unfortunately, children under 13 are not allowed to sign up for Stack Exchange accounts. If you are under 13, and are trying to participate, first off, we're sorry. It's awesome that you're already trying to help others learn, and it's frustrating to us that (well-intentioned) legal issues make it challenging. We'd encourage you to work with your parent or legal guardian, who can set up an account and use it with you, or establish other appropriate ways to use the site as a family.

Why is this restriction in place?

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act requires that websites cannot collect personal information from children under the age of 13, including "full name, home address, email address, telephone number or any other information that would allow someone to identify or contact the child."

Since Stack Exchange, during the registration process, allows users to enter their name, email address, and website URLs where other users might be able to contact the user, Stack Exchange is legally obligated to follow this law.

If you want to change it without doing one of the above you'll need to do one of the following:

  • Get Stack Overflow to accept parental/guardian permission for individual accounts, since as long as the parent agrees, COPPA allows websites to collect such information. (Note: It's really, really expensive/hard to comply with these rules, which is why almost no sites do it unless their target audience is mostly underage, like DisneyGo.)
  • Lobby the US Congress to change COPPA to allow your usage of the site.
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If I read it correctly, it should be sufficient to let anyone over 13 set up an account and give you access to it. As long as the personal information of the younger person is not added to the account before reaching 13. – Dennis Jaheruddin Feb 14 '14 at 9:12
@Jaydles "edited to clarify" --> Remove information that may allow legal usage for underage youth. – Adam Davis Jul 31 '15 at 18:40
How does a 12 year old lobby US congress? – BlueRaja Sep 10 '15 at 0:39
@BlueRaja they are citizens and they have representatives. Just because they can't vote doesn't mean they can't send letters, start movements, and otherwise participate in representative democracy. – Adam Davis Sep 10 '15 at 2:01
It might be faster to just get older and not worry about it after you're 13... – Nelson Sep 11 '15 at 16:08
"How do I use Stack Exchange if I'm under 13 years old?" @Nelson "Grow up!" ;) – Adam Davis Sep 11 '15 at 17:25

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