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  • Robert Stines

Facebook and Children's Privacy?

Last week, I wrote about the Children Online Privacy Protection Act. The day after I published that blog, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) wrote a Letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking for an investigation into Facebook's Messenger Kids. The CCFC asked the FTC to take enforcement action against Facebook for violating the Children Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

Recall from my previous blog post that pursuant to COPPA operators such as Facebook must:

  • Post a clear online privacy policy describing their information practices for personal information collected online from children;

  • Provide direct notice to parents and obtain parental consent, with limited exceptions, before collecting personal information from children;

  • Give parents the choice of consenting to the operator’s collection and internal use of a child’s information, but prohibiting the operator from disclosing that information to third parties (unless disclosure is integral to the site or service, in which case, this must be made clear to parents);

  • Provide parents with access to their child's personal information to review and/or have the information deleted;

  • Give parents the opportunity to prevent further use or collection of a child's personal information; and,

  • Maintain the confidentiality, security, and integrity of information they collect from children, including by taking reasonable steps to release such information only to parties capable of maintaining its confidentiality and security.

According to CCFC's letter, Messenger Kids is the first major social media platform designed specifically for young children—as young as five years of age.

CCFC contends that Messenger Kids violates COPPA by collecting personal information from children without obtaining verifiable parental consent, or providing parents with clear and complete disclosures of Facebook’s data practices.

Apparently, earlier this year, CCFC asked Facebook to discontinue its Messenger Kids app because of the developmental risks it poses to children.

Beyond the developmental risks, CCFC believes that Messenger Kids' parental consent mechanism is not reasonably calculated to ensure that the person providing consent is the child’s parent—or even an adult. My interpretation of this statement is that kids are able to create an account without parents' knowledge or consent.

CCFC also believes that Facebook’s privacy notice for Messenger Kids is confusing and incomplete, preventing parents from making informed decisions about whether to allow Facebook to collect their children’s sensitive personal information.

My 2 Cents

To be honest, before seeing CCFC's letter I did not know that Facebook had an app that was designed for children as young as 5. After reviewing the letter, my initial thought was that Facebook is worried about losing users and that Messenger Kids is a gateway to a new generation of addicts. Also, advertisers would love to get screen time with kids to influence their thoughts and buying habits.

Without studying Messenger Kids, I cannot comment on CCFC's allegations, but it might be worth FTC's time to investigate the possible violation of COPPA - for the kids.

~ Robert Stines, Florida Cyber Lawyer

Florida Cyber Lawyer
Robert Stines


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