Facebook recently launched Messenger Kids as a solution for kids under 13 to be on social media without having their own Facebook account, but child experts still warn of its impacts and urge Facebook to scrap the app. Facebook's also stressed it doesn't collect information from children or display adverts within the app.
Facebook said that it created Messenger Kids after consulting with experts from a number of fields including child development, online safety, and children's media and technology.
Organized by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, nineteen groups, including Common Sense Media and Public Citizen, have signed a letter to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg that will be sent on Tuesday. "They are not old enough to navigate the complexities of online relationships, which often lead to misunderstandings and conflicts even among more mature users", reads the letter.
"They also do not have a fully developed understanding of privacy, including what's appropriate to share with others and who has access to their conversations, pictures and videos", they added.
When it comes to young children, I think most people can agree that it pays to err on the side of caution.
The letter also quotes various Facebook mishaps from the recent past, including fake news, "preparing research for an advertising client on how to target teens when they are emotionally vulnerable, and allowing advertisers to discriminate based on age and ethnicity and target messages to racists and anti-Semites". But App Annie, an app analytics firm, said Messenger Kids has been downloaded about 80,000 times on iOS since it launched on December 4. Facebook says children can only connect with "parent-approved contacts".
Facebook tells PCMag it has no plans to discontinue the Messenger Kids app any time soon.
The letter questions whether there is a need for Facebook to fulfil such a role, saying: "Talking to family and friends over long distances doesn't require a Messenger Kids account".
"Already, adolescents report difficulty moderating their own social media use", they write.
"Messenger Kids is not responding to a need - it is creating one", claims the letter. The watchdog organization Center for Digital Democracy, which helped to pass the federal privacy law Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, the Children's Privacy Protection Act, praised Facebook's launch of the new service. "We ask that you do not use Facebook's enormous reach and influence to make it even harder", the letter said. Rather, the app works as an extension of a parent's account, and parents get controls such as the ability to decide who their kids can chat with. But the 11- and 12- year-olds who now use Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook are unlikely to switch to an app that is clearly designed for younger children.
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