The New Facebook App for Kids: Proceed With Caution
On the surface, Facebook seems to be doing everything right by its just-announced Messenger Kids, a new app aimed at under-13 users (who are excluded from Facebook proper). Messenger Kids — developed in consultation with parenting groups, child development experts, and safety organizations, and compliant with the US’s online child protection laws — is a version of Facebook messenger that allows kids to chat, share photos and videos and doodles — engage with technology, rather than passively consume it — with only parent-approved contacts in an ad-free environment. The child’s account is registered under a parent’s Facebook account, and will not be switched automatically to a full-fledged Facebook account under the child’s name once the child turns 13.
It’s also, of course, a blatant play for establishing consumer loyalty at the earliest ages — unsurprising from a company whose free Internet proposal in India last year was an obvious, tandem play to astronomically expand its user base.
But that is modus operandi for any business. More concerning — and more specific to Facebook — is a habit of retroactively fitting policy to profit. The company says now that the data collected from child users will not be used for marketing purposes (i.e. sold to advertisers) — but Facebook’s history gives users, adult or child, no reason to expect that a year or two down the line, with a goldmine of insights into kids’ and family’s conversations, online habits, likes and dislikes, that policy won’t be adjusted to suit the social network’s bottom line.
All of this casts doubt on Facebook’s intention to “provide a more controlled environment for the types of activity that were already occurring across smartphones and tablets among family members.” Coming from a company known to quietly adjust its algorithms to keep users hooked, collect more of their personal information, and thus, in turn, make more money off of those users, these lofty intentions just don’t seem genuine or reliable. Until Facebook proves us wrong, this new app for kids doesn’t seem worthy of our trust.