Facebook's messaging platform for children, Messenger Kids, violates children's privacy laws, 17 advocacy groups say in a letter to the Federal Trade Commission.
“Facebook’s Messenger Kids application does not comply with COPPA -- despite Facebook’s claims to the contrary,” the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Consumer Federation of America and other watchdogs say in a letter sent this week to the FTC. COPPA, which stands for Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, requires companies to obtain parental consent before collecting personal information -- including names, email addresses, geolocation data and unique identifiers -- from children 12 and younger.
Facebook requires parents to give permission before children use Messenger Kids. But the advocacy groups contend that the company doesn't adequately verify that the people giving permission are actually the users' parents. The watchdogs also say Facebook doesn't sufficiently explain its data collection practices to parents.
The organizations are asking the FTC to investigate Facebook and prosecute the company for allegedly violating COPPA.
Facebook's Messenger Kids, aimed at children 12 and younger, allows kids to interact with contacts approved by parents. The app allows for users to engage in one-on-one or group chats, and send photos, videos or text messages to contacts. Facebook isn't running ads on Messenger Kids and says that children's data won't be used for ad targeting.
A Facebook spokesperson says Messenger Kids was designed to comply with the law. “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,” the spokesperson says.
Soon after Facebook launched Messenger Kids last December, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and other groups voiced objections to the service, arguing that it undermines children's development.
Not all advocates have opposed the platform. The watchdog organization Center for Digital Democracy, which helped pass COPPA, praised Facebook's launch of the service. "In its first formal move to enter the children’s digital marketplace, Facebook has taken a responsible approach to this sensitive age group," American University professor Kathryn Montgomery, a consultant with CDD, stated last year. But she added that services like the app need to be monitored.