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The backlash against Messenger Kids

In retrospect, the weirdest thing about Messenger Kids was the timing. With trust in the company decl
January 30 · Issue #72 · View online
The Interface
In retrospect, the weirdest thing about Messenger Kids was the timing. With trust in the company declining, and amid a period of deep reflection in which the company would acknowledge for the first time that some social media consumption could make users feel worse, in December Facebook announced a new messaging app for children as young as 6
Today came the backlash. Here’s Hamza Shaban in the Post:
More than 100 child advocates, civil society groups, medical experts and other individuals are urging Facebook to discontinue its Messenger app for kids, alleging that the software poses health and development risks to children.
Organized by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, nineteen groups, including Common Sense Media and Public Citizen, have signed a letter to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg that will be sent on Tuesday. The initiative is the latest example of critics opposing early adoption of digital technology and is playing out amid a broader backlash against the rising influence of Silicon Valley.
The signatories said children are not prepared for online relationships and lack an understanding of privacy and the appropriateness of sharing texts, pictures and videos. Citing research that suggests a link between social media use and higher rates of depression among teens, the letter states it would be irresponsible for Facebook to expose preschool-aged children to a similar service. In addition, the signatories expressed concerns over boosting the screen time of young children and said this would interfere with crucial developmental skills such as reading human emotion, delaying gratification and engaging with the physical world.
Facebook saw these criticisms coming. At launch, the company said it had built the app only after “talking to thousands of parents, associations like National PTA, and parenting experts in the US.” (An asterisk led to this statement at the bottom of the post: “National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product, or service. No endorsement is implied.”) The company also said it spoke with Blue Star Families, which advocates for families in which one or more parents are serving in the US military.
At the time, I wrote about why Messenger Kids gave me pause:
A child can use an iMessage account and share very little data about herself with Apple. The same holds true for Hangouts. In many cases, children are using their parents’ accounts, obscuring the data further.
On Messenger Kids, a parent creates an account for a child, establishes a familial relationship within the app, and then begins building their child’s social graph by adding contacts. Notably, the parent is asked to provide their child’s real name. Facebook says it has no plans to turn these shadow accounts into full-fledged Facebook profiles. And yet the data it collects could be useful for ad targeting elsewhere on the service. And should Facebook amass hundreds of millions of underage users, the company will have every incentive to offer one-click exporting of these accounts to real ones on the day the child turns 13.
Now child advocates are espousing similar concerns. In response, Facebook’s Antigone Davis reiterated that the company talked to the PTA, which (remember) did not endorse the app:
“We worked to create Messenger Kids with an advisory committee of parenting and developmental experts, as well as with families themselves and in partnership with National PTA. We continue to be focused on making Messenger Kids the best experience it can be for families.”
So on one side you have the child advocates, who have succeeded in previous efforts to roll back marketing campaigns for Pokémon Go and McDonalds. And on the other, you have Facebook saying it consulted with an anonymous group of experts, all of whom have remained quiet during the (mild) controversy around the app.
The imbalance works against Facebook. Trust can buy a tech company the goodwill it needs to push us outside of our comfort zone — to set up a Facebook Jr. account for our 6-year-olds. Without it, many will assume the worst. If the movement against Messenger Kids grows, Facebook would do well to introduce us to the experts it consulted with and let us hear from them directly. 
On one hand, Facebook executives likely find this unfair: plenty of young children are using FaceTime and Skype, for example, and no one is calling for them to be banned. On the other side, those apps don’t ask children to create separate accounts linked to their families.
In the long run, public pressure is only the second-greatest risk to the future of Messenger Kids. The first, by a considerable margin, is apathy: Apptopia, a company that tracks app downloads, tells me that after nearly two months, Messenger Kids is being used by only 20,000 people a day.

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Also, Marc Benioff is still doing his social-media-is-cigarettes schtick:
Marc Benioff
When I was a kid I remember cigarette companies providing cigarettes with their logos that were made of bubble gum. You blew out powdered sugar smoke! The idea was to get kids interested in smoking early! Reminds me of questions about when kids should start using social media!
And finally ...
Explaining Bathleisure, Instagram’s Hottest Towel Trend
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