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Facebook Forges Ahead With Kids App Despite Expert Criticism

Critics say it serves to lure kids into harmful social media use and to hook young people on Facebook as it tries to compete with Snapchat or its own Instagram app

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# users sued the social media app for scraping their data from the messengers. VOA

Facebook is forging ahead with its messaging app for kids, despite child experts who have pressed the company to shut it down and others who question Facebook’s financial support of some advisers who approved of the app.

Messenger Kids lets kids under 13 chat with friends and family. It displays no ads and lets parents approve who their children message. But critics say it serves to lure kids into harmful social media use and to hook young people on Facebook as it tries to compete with Snapchat or its own Instagram app. They say kids shouldn’t be on such apps at all — although they often are.

“It is disturbing that Facebook, in the face of widespread concern, is aggressively marketing Messenger Kids to even more children,” the Campaign For a Commercial-Free Childhood said in a statement this week.

ALSO READ: Why Facebook blocking posts in India is necessary

Facebook now gives options to add friends from the live chat. Pixabay
Facebook now gives options to add friends from the live chat. Pixabay

Lukeward reception

Messenger Kids launched on iOS to a lukewarm reception in December. It arrived on Amazon devices in January and on Android Wednesday. Throughout, Facebook has touted a team of advisers, academics, and families who helped shape the app in the year before it launched.

But a Wired report this week pointed out that more than half of this safety advisory board had financial ties to the company. Facebook confirmed this and said it hasn’t hidden donations to these individuals and groups — although it hasn’t publicized them, either.

Facebook’s donations to groups like the National PTA (the official name of the Parent Teacher Association) typically covered logistics costs or sponsored activities like anti-bullying programs or events such as parent roundtables. One advisory group, the Family Online Safety Institute, has an executive on its board, along with execs from Disney, Comcast, and Google.

“We sometimes provide funding to cover programmatic or logistics expenses, to make sure our work together can have the most impact,” Facebook said in a statement, adding that many of the organizations and people who advised on Messenger Kids do not receive financial support of any kind.

Common Sense a late addition

But for a company under pressure from many sides — Congress, regulators, advocates for online privacy and mental health — even the appearance of impropriety can hurt. Facebook didn’t invite prominent critics, such as the nonprofit Common Sense Media, to advise it on Messenger Kids until the process was nearly over. Facebook would not comment publicly on why it didn’t include Common Sense earlier in the process.

“Because they know we opposed their position,” said James Steyer, the CEO of Common Sense. The group’s stance is that Facebook should never have released a product aimed at kids. “They know very well our position with Messenger Kids.”

A few weeks after Messenger Kids launched, nearly 100 outside experts banded together to urge Facebook to shut down the app, which it has not done. The company says it is “committed to building better products for families, including Messenger Kids. That means listening to parents and experts, including our critics.”

ALSO READ: Facebook Realizes Internet Can Harm Democracy

Facebook has over 217 million monthly active users in India and 212 million of them are active on smartphones. Pixabay
Facebook has over 217 million monthly active users in India and 212 million of them are active on smartphones. Pixabay

Wired article unfair?

One of Facebook’s experts contested the notion that company advisers were in Facebook’s pocket. Lewis Bernstein, now a paid Facebook consultant who worked for Sesame Workshop (the nonprofit behind “Sesame Street”) in various capacities over three decades, said the Wired article “unfairly” accused him and his colleagues for accepting travel expenses to Facebook seminars.

But the Wired story did not count Lewis as one of the seven out of 13 advisers who took funding for Messenger Kids, and the magazine did not include travel funding when it counted financial ties. Bernstein was not a Facebook consultant at the time he was advising it on Messenger Kids.

Bernstein, who doesn’t see technology as “inherently dangerous,” suggested that Facebook critics like Common Sense are also tainted by accepting $50 million in donated airtime for a campaign warning about the dangers of technology addiction. Among those air-time donors is Comcast and AT&T’s DirecTV.

But Common Sense spokeswoman Corbie Kiernan called that figure a “misrepresentation” that got picked up by news outlets. She said Common Sense has public service announcement commitments “from partners such as Comcast and DirectTV” that has been valued at $50 million. The group has used that time in other campaigns in addition to its current “Truth About Tech” effort, which it’s launching with a group of ex-Google and Facebook employees and their newly formed Center for Humane Technology. (VOA)

Next Story

Instagram Testing a New in-app Account Recovery Process

The new recovery process is aimed at letting users recover an account from within the app itself, rather than having to lean on the security team

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Instagram
Instagram app logo is displayed on a mobile screen in Los Angeles. VOA

To offer more assurance in recovering hacked accounts, Facebook-owned messaging app Instagram is testing a new in-app account recovery process.

To control cases where the hackers alter username and contact data linked to the accounts, Instagram is offering a safeguard which would prevent any username from being claimed for a “period of time” after account changes, whether it is a hack or a voluntary change.

As part of the new test process, for recovery, users are being asked to fill in their personal information such as their original email address or phone number and later send them a six-digit code to the contact information of their choice, Engadget reported on Sunday.

The new method is intended to ensure account recovery even if the hacker alters the username and contact information linked to the account.

With this process, the photo-messaging app also intends to prevent hackers from using email or phone number codes to take over accounts from different devices, the report said.

instagram
With a 1-billion user-base worldwide, the app still does not allow web users to post Stories from the desktop. Pixabay

For now, details on the wider availability of this in-app remains unclear, although the username lockdown has been made available to all Android users now which is being deployed to iOS users as well.

Presently, to recover a hacked account, users have to either wait for a recovery email or fill out a support form, making the process time-consuming.

Also Read- Microsoft Launches Smart Phonetic Keyboards for 10 Indian Languages

The new recovery process is aimed at letting users recover an account from within the app itself, rather than having to lean on the security team.

Instagram’s decision comes two months after its parent company Facebook admitted to have “fixed a security issue” that had been saving passwords of 200-600 million users in plain text and “readable” format since 2012, which were also searchable by over 20,000 of its staff members. (IANS)