Facebook's New Kids App Potentially Violates Federal Privacy Laws

Despite a fairly significant degree of concern from parents and guardians, Facebook seems to be going ahead with its newest innovation, an app-based messenger exclusively for children. The potential issues are largely self-evident, in that giving kids under the age of 13 a digital space in which they will navigate relationships with usernames — not people — and without the guidance of an adult can get tricky. But headlines today are painting an even grimmer picture: Facebook's new kids app potentially violates federal privacy laws, according to some advocacy groups, and parents should be taking note.

AP reported that some children's and public health advocacy organizations are claiming that the new app is in violation of federal law as it would collect kids' personal information without "verifiable consent from their parents."

The report continued to explain that The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which is the group spearheading the push for the app's removal, has formally asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the app under the assumption that it is in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA. The group claims that the company's privacy policy for the app is "incomplete and vague" and that it would potentially allow third parties to disclose data “for broad, undefined business purposes.”

The group also issued a letter to Mark Zuckerburg and Facebook, in which they outlined their rational as to why the company should discontinue Messenger Kids.

"Given Facebook’s enormous reach and marketing prowess, Messenger Kids will likely be the first social media platform widely used by elementary school children. But a growing body of research demonstrates that excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to children and teens, making it very likely this new app will undermine children’s healthy development," the letter began.

They continued:

Younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts. They are not old enough to navigate the complexities of online relationships, which often lead to misunderstandings and conflicts even among more mature users. 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. At a time when there is mounting concern about how social media use affects adolescents’ wellbeing, it is particularly irresponsible to encourage children as young as preschoolers to start using a Facebook product.

However, AP also reported that Facebook is denying any such potential harm, noting that they won't be showing ads on the app, and that parents would have to approve who kids message. “We sometimes provide funding to cover programmatic or logistics expenses, to make sure our work together can have the most impact,” Facebook said in a statement.

MarketWatch also reported that advocates are advising parents keep their children away from the app. “While evidence shows that excessive social media use negatively impacts the wellbeing of children and teens, Facebook is trying to get kids hooked at the tender age of five,” Josh Golin, executive director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, told MarketWatch.

However, a spokesperson from Facebook also told MarketWatch that they "built the app from the ground up with input from families as well as privacy and safety experts to protect kids’ privacy and put parents in control." They continued: “We’ve heard from them that Messenger Kids is one of the safest apps for kids to connect with their family and friends, and we also continue to support research on the relationship between technology and kids’ wellbeing.”

Regardless of where your opinion on the matter is, it's important to keep lines of communication open between parents and caretakers, ensuring that whatever media children are utilizing is only for their benefit.