FTC complaint accuses Facebook of collecting data on children with Messenger Kids

FTC complaint accuses Facebook of collecting data on children with Messenger Kids
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A coalition of child and consumer advocacy groups on Wednesday accused Facebook of illegally collecting data on children with its new Messenger Kids app.

In a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and other organizations argued that the service’s disclosures about its privacy practices are overly vague, allowing Facebook to share children’s data with third parties.

The groups allege that Messenger Kids is in violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act because it doesn’t ensure that the adult giving a child permission to use the app is actually the user’s guardian.

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“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,” CCFC’s executive director, Josh Golin, said in a statement. “They tell parents that Messenger Kids was designed to be safe for children, but they don’t even comply with the most basic privacy requirements of the law. The best choice for parents is clear: keep young kids away from Facebook.”

Facebook introduced the service in December, aimed at children ages 6 to 12 who are too young to create an account on the social network. The service lets children chat with other Messenger Kids users and requires a parent to set up the account for them.

“We designed Messenger Kids to comply with the law, but we also did more," a Facebook spokesperson told The Hill in a statement. "We built it from the ground up with input from families as well as privacy and safety experts to protect kids' privacy and put parents in control. 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.”

The complaint says that the app’s consent mechanism is easily manipulated, making it easy for a child to bypass it and create an account without their parents’ help or for adults to create fake child accounts.

“Our own testing shows that it is not difficult to create a fake account that can approve a Messenger Kids user,” the complaint reads. “We created a brand new Facebook account for a fictional 18 year-old. We then used that account to approve a fictional Messenger Kids user. The entire process took five minutes.”

Updated at 12:55 p.m.