Facebook faces FTC complaint accusing it of harvesting data on children in Messenger Kids app

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Facebook has been illegally collecting data on children in its Messenger Kids app, according to a coalition of child and consumer advocacy groups. 

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and other groups asked the Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday to investigate the kid-centric messaging app for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). 

The groups argue Facebook has violated federal law by collecting kids’ information without obtaining consent from their parents. 

 

According to the complaint, Messenger Kids does not meet COPPA requirements because it doesn’t try to ensure that the person who sets up the kids’ account and gives consent to have their data collected is the actual parent. 

In fact, the groups say, someone could set up a brand new, fictional account and immediately approve a kid’s account without proving their age or identity.

Facebook said Wednesday it hasn’t yet reviewed the complaint letter. 

The company has said it doesn’t show ads on Messenger Kids or collect data for marketing purposes, though it does collect some data it says is necessary to run the service.

But the advocacy groups say the privacy policy of Messenger Kids is ‘incomplete and vague’ and allows Facebook to disclose data to third parties and other Facebook services ‘for broad, undefined business purposes.’

‘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,’ he added.   

Facebook launched Messenger Kids last December on iOS and has since expanded to Android and Amazon devices and beyond the U.S. to Mexico, Canada and elsewhere. 

It is aimed at children under 13 who technically cannot have Facebook accounts (although plenty of them do).

‘Our own testing shows that it is not difficult to create a fake account that can approve a Messenger Kids user,’ according to the complaint. 

‘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,’ it continues.  

Though the company says it has received a lot of input from parents and children’s development experts in creating the app, groups such as the CCFC have been trying to get Messenger Kids shut down since it launched. 

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