Face­book’s kids’ app gets neg­a­tive re­view

Child ex­perts say kids aren’t ready for world of so­cial me­dia

Lethbridge Herald - - TRENDS & LIFESTYLES - Matt O’Brien and Bar­bara Or­tu­tay THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS – BOS­TON

Child de­vel­op­ment ex­perts and ad­vo­cates are urg­ing Face­book to pull the plug on its new mes­sag­ing app aimed at kids. A group letter sent Tues­day to CEO Mark Zucker­berg ar­gues that younger chil­dren — the app is in­tended for those un­der 13 — aren’t ready to have so­cial me­dia ac­counts, nav­i­gate the com­plex­i­ties of on­line re­la­tion­ships or pro­tect their own pri­vacy.

Face­book launched the free Mes­sen­ger Kids app in De­cem­ber, pitch­ing it as a way for chil­dren to chat with fam­ily mem­bers and par­ent-ap­proved friends. It doesn’t give kids sep­a­rate Face­book or Mes­sen­ger ac­counts. 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.

The so­cial me­dia gi­ant has said it fills “a need for a mes­sag­ing app that lets kids con­nect with peo­ple they love but also has the level of con­trol par­ents want.”

“TAR­GET­ING YOUNGER CHIL­DREN”

But a group of 100 ex­perts, ad­vo­cates and par­ent­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions is con­test­ing those claims. Led by the Bos­ton-based Campaign for a Com­mer­cial-Free Child­hood, the group in­cludes psy­chi­a­trists, pe­di­a­tri­cians, ed­u­ca­tors and the chil­dren’s mu­sic singer Raffi Cavoukian.

“Mes­sen­ger Kids is not re­spond­ing to a need — it is cre­at­ing one,” the letter states. “It ap­peals pri­mar­ily to chil­dren who other­wise would not have their own so­cial me­dia ac­counts.”

Another pas­sage crit­i­cized Face­book for “tar­get­ing younger chil­dren with a new prod­uct.”

In a state­ment, Face­book said on Mon­day that the app “helps par­ents and chil­dren to chat in a safer way,” and em­pha­sized that par­ents are “al­ways in con­trol” of their kids’ ac­tiv­ity. The so­cial me­dia gi­ant added that it con­sulted with par­ent­ing ex­perts and fam­i­lies, and said “there is no ad­ver­tis­ing in Mes­sen­ger Kids.”

KIDS AND FACE­BOOK

A va­ri­ety of ex­perts and tech­nol­ogy in­sid­ers have be­gun ques­tion­ing the ef­fects smart­phones and so­cial me­dia apps are hav­ing on peo­ple’s health and men­tal well-be­ing — whether kids, teens or adults. Sean Parker, Face­book’s first pres­i­dent, said late last year that the so­cial me­dia plat­form ex­ploits “vul­ner­a­bil­ity in hu­man psy­chol­ogy” to ad­dict users. A cho­rus of other early em­ploy­ees and in­vestors piled on with sim­i­lar crit­i­cisms.

Many pre­teens have al­ready found their way onto Face­book and more youth-ori­ented so­cial me­dia plat­forms such as Snapchat and Face­book’s own In­sta­gram, de­spite in­ter­nal rules that re­quire users to be at least 13 years old. Those rules are based in part on fed­eral law, which pro­hibits in­ter­net com­pa­nies from col­lect­ing per­sonal in­for­ma­tion on chil­dren with­out their par­ents’ per­mis­sion and im­poses re­stric­tions on ad­ver­tis­ing to them.

Some com­pa­nies have of­fered parental con­trols as a way of curb­ing unau­tho­rized pre­teen use of their plat­forms. But Face­book’s new kid-fo­cused app, which fea­tures an­i­ma­tions and emo­jis, seems to cater to a younger au­di­ence, said Josh Golin, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Campaign for a Com­mer­cialFree Child­hood.

“It looks like some­thing that would ap­peal to a six-year-old or seven-year-old,” he said.

UN­CER­TAIN IM­PACT

Face­book wouldn’t an­swer ques­tions about how pop­u­lar the mes­sag­ing app has been. But App An­nie, an app an­a­lyt­ics firm, said Mes­sen­ger Kids has been down­loaded about 80,000 times on iOS since it launched on Dec. 4. It’s been in the top 40 most pop­u­lar kids’ apps since then. That sounds like a luke­warm re­cep­tion at best.

Univer­sity of Michi­gan devel­op­men­tal be­havioural pe­di­a­tri­cian Jenny Radesky, who co-signed the letter, said she’s never met a par­ent who was clam­our­ing to get their chil­dren onto so­cial me­dia at an ear­lier age.

“One can only as­sume that Face­book in­tro­duced it to en­gage users younger and younger,” Radesky said.

That’s trou­bling, she said, be­cause younger chil­dren haven’t yet de­vel­oped the cog­ni­tive skills that en­able them to think about and reg­u­late their thoughts and ac­tions and “al­low them to re­al­ize when per­sua­sive tech­nol­ogy de­sign might be ma­nip­u­lat­ing them.”

At the time it launched Mes­sen­ger Kids, Face­book said it won’t show ads or col­lect data for mar­ket­ing to kids. And it stressed that it won’t au­to­mat­i­cally move users to the reg­u­lar Mes­sen­ger or Face­book when they get old enough — though it might give them the op­tion to move con­tacts to Mes­sen­ger down the line.

Cour­tesy of Face­book via As­so­ci­ated Press

A file photo pro­vided by Face­book demon­strates parental con­trols on Face­book’s new Mes­sen­ger app for kids.

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