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Democratic senators question privacy, security of Facebook's 'Messenger Kids'

Democratic senators question privacy, security of Facebook's 'Messenger Kids'
© Keren Carrion

Two Senate Democrats are questioning the privacy and security of Facebook’s new messaging app, which is designed for kids under 13.

Sens. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOcasio-Cortez says having Green New Deal would have helped handle COVID-19 pandemic OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats push expansion of offshore wind, block offshore drilling with ocean energy bill | Poll: Two-thirds of voters support Biden climate plan | Biden plan lags Green New Deal in fighting emissions from homes Biden plan lags Green New Deal in fighting emissions from homes MORE (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who are both members of the Senate Commerce Committee, expressed their concerns in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday.

“We remain concerned about where sensitive information collected through this app could end up and for what purpose it could be used,” they wrote. “Facebook needs to provide assurances that this ‘walled garden’ service they describe is fully protective of children.”

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The senators want proof that Facebook is complying with Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a Federal Trade Commission regulation that imposes rules on collecting data from children under 13 on the internet.

The Facebook app, Messenger Kids, is a special version of its Messenger app and is designed for kids 6–12.

The social media giant noted in its rollout that Messenger Kids would differ from Messenger. Facebook says it will only collect minimal amounts of data from Messenger Kids users in an effort to improve the app and will not to sell that data to third parties. The company also said it will not automatically migrate Messenger Kids accounts into Facebook pages when the app's users turn 13.

Markey and Blumenthal asked if Facebook would “commit that it will never change that policy and keep all its applications and services for children 12 and under" free of advertisements.

The two pressed Facebook on possible ways it could still collect data, despite the company's assurances. Markey and Blumenthal in the letter wondered if Facebook would collect the location data of children or if the firm would distribute the data within its own family of companies.

The senators say that they expect Facebook to respond to their questions by Jan. 4.

The Facebook app, which aims to give children access to Messenger while still allowing parental control, was questioned by some media organizations and experts during its release earlier this week. Critics questioned Facebook’s motivations in releasing an app for users under the age of 13, who are not eligible to sign up for Facebook accounts.

Facebook has touted the app as a way for families to better connect and parents to keep their kids safe.

“After talking to thousands of parents, associations like National PTA, and parenting experts in the US, we found that there's a need for a messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want.” Loren Cheng, a product management director at Facebook, wrote on Monday.