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It's hard enough to police your kids online activity. And Facebook's new messaging app specifically designed for kids is not helping the cause.
For years Facebook has been off-limits to kids under 13, but Messenger Kids, which launched today, changes that. It allows users under age 13 to send text messages, photos, videos, stickers and draw pictures with permission from their parents. Parental permission is mandatory when signing up for the app, and parental approval is needed to make friends and start conversations. Parental approval comes from a parent’s Facebook account, which also gives parents some control over their children’s activity. But how safe is it if your tech-savvy 8-year-old knows how to get into your phone and onto your Facebook account?
Kids are unable to delete messages, so parents can check message threads. But who has time to check one more thing to make sure kids are engaged in safe convos with age-appropriate friends, or to make sure they aren't being bullied by kids from school?
Concerned about Facebook’s new app? You’re not alone. James P. Steyer, Founder and CEO of Common Sense Media isn’t on-board. “A messenger app for kids under 13 that only parents can sign them up for sounds like a nice idea on its face, but without clear policies about data collection, what happens to the content children post, and plans for the future, it is impossible to fully trust the platform. We appreciate that for now, the product is ad-free and appears designed to put parents in control. But why should parents simply trust that Facebook is acting in the best interest of kids?”
Facebook says it will collect some data, including children's names, the content of their messages and data about how they are using the app. Facebook also reserves the right to share information with third parties (which may have their own privacy policies regarding children) and says it won’t use data from Messenger Kids to create ads. Thanks to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), Facebook can’t advertise to users under the age of 13, since kids may not fully understand the use of ads.
Steyer says Facebook should be clearer about its policies when it comes to kids. “Will the product remain ad-free? What data are they collecting and exactly how are they using it? Will parents get ads based on the service? Will they ever erase the group chats that kids are having? These are simple questions that parents need answers to before they sign their kids up. We encourage Facebook to clarify their policies from the start so that it is perfectly clear what parents are signing up for.”
It’s hard to navigate the ever-changing internet landscape, especially at a time when children under the age of eight are spending an hour per day staring at a screen.
What are your thoughts on Messenger Kids? Let us know in the comments below.