Facebook Messenger for Kids?

Category: Facebook

Facebook’s long-standing policy is “no one under age 13.” But that leaves a lot of potential consumers (or, at least, powerful influencers of consumers) beyond the reach of their data collection machine. So the company is launching “Messenger Kids,” a version of its video chat app designed for minors as young as six and the parents who worry about them. This is...

Wrong On So Many Levels

Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Kik, and Snapchat all require users to be over 13, too. YouTube requires account holders to be 18 or older, but a 13 year-old can sign up with an account-holding parent’s permission. This common age floor is no coincidence.

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1998 requires operators of websites and other “online services” to provide notice to parents and obtain their permission before collecting personal information - such as name, address, phone number and screen name - about any child under age 13 from that child. Companies cannot collect from younger users any geolocation data that could identify a street, or any files containing any voice, still image, or video file of the child. Behind-the-scene data like cookies, IP addresses or the unique device identifier (UDID) of a mobile device are off-limits.

The Center for Digital Democracy has a parent’s guide to COPPA and the FTC rules that strengthened its protections for kids, last updated in 2013. Dozens of companies, from Hasbro to Yelp and small app developers, have been fined by the FTC for violating COPPA willfully. But willful violations by corporations is a fraction of COPPA end-runs.

Facebook Messenger - Good for Kids?

COPPA does not work if parents cave in to kids’ pleas for access to what all their friends are using, or if a child simply provides a false birth date when asked for one. Messenger Kids does not solve the latter problem; perhaps only something similar to “real-time Carbon-14 dating” could effectively block pre-teens. (I’m joking; please don’t tell me how Carbon-14 dating works). But it goes all-out to make caving in easier for parents to rationalize.

Facebook gushes that "Messenger Kids opens up a new world of online communication to families." You can just imagine how excited little Johnny and Janey will be when Mom tells them it's time for a Messenger Kids video chat with Grandma and Grandpa. (Of course, that interaction could happen just as easily on Mom's phone.)

Put Your Brain in Neutral

In a recent blog post, Facebook Product Management Director Loren Chung paints a lavishly reassuring and tempting picture of Messenger Kids. The app, which is currently available only for Apple kids, gives parents instant insight into their children’s contacts and activities. It gives parents veto power over every proposed new contact. It gives kids the freedom to make twisted pictures and videos of themselves and share their creations with friends and relatives. It complies with COPPA by requiring parental permission and making the granting of permission a “no-brainer” decision.

Wrong on so many levels

But only the most stay-at-home “helicopter parent” has time to truly investigate every new contact a kid wants to add, and review every inbound and outbound text message, video chat, and photo that just one kid may generate. If you have two or more kids, forget it! As with every security system, the human element is the weakest, most exploitable flaw. Even requiring parents to set up a Messenger for Kids account does not prevent kids who already have access to their parents’ Facebook accounts, or their own accounts created with false birth dates, from creating Messenger Kids accounts for themselves or even their friends.

Parents may say, “These are your allowed contacts; don’t ask to add any more.” But they will not be able to keep up with the tsunami of content that will flood their own Messenger apps. They will end up with a history of their children’s activities, which might be useful for criminal investigations but does not keep a child safe. Furthermore, video chat sessions are not subject to parental review, a huge loophole that will assuredly lead to trouble. (As if teen "sexting" wasn't enough to for parents to be worried about.)

It’s telling that Apple parents and kids are the first to get Messenger Kids. (On January 20, 2018, Amazon Fire users will get theirs. A version for Android devices will arrive "in the coming months.") Parents who can afford to put an iPhone or iPad in the hands of one or more kindergartners are likely to have a rather inflated opinion of their own competence and, presumably, that of their little darlings. But Apple has always designed and marketed its products as things that “just work,” without users having to think about anything. That’s the ideal demographic for Messenger Kids.

“There are no ads in Messenger Kids and your child’s information isn’t used for ads,” says Chung. Setting up Messenger Kids for a child does not create a Facebook account for that child; instead, the child is authorized under the parent’s account. The app is free to download and install. So what is the profit motive for Facebook?

Messenger Kids is a “gateway drug,” plain and simple. It not only fosters screen addiction at ages as young as six (or less), it also hooks them on Facebook products. That’s the game Facebook is playing with parents. I think parents should refuse to play.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Facebook Messenger for Kids?"

Posted by:

12 Jan 2018

I TOTALLY agree!

Posted by:

12 Jan 2018

Facebook claims the link is unsafe! You get security alert that prevents this link from being posted

Posted by:

David Chawner
12 Jan 2018

I try to avoid Facebook and have not joined messenger so believe that Messenger Kids is completely inappropriate.

Posted by:

13 Jan 2018

Ah - No - In fact - HELL NO!!!

Facebook has gone completely nuts!!! I rarely use FB and do not regret it. I prefer to NOT use FB and it's Messenger.due to privacy issues.

Posted by:

17 Jan 2018

Anyway, so how does Carbn-14 dating work?

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