Facebook’s Messenger Kids: Child advocates call for shutdown of app

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. 

James Martin

Facebook should shut down a messaging app aimed at children under 13 years old after a report surfaced last week that the social network duped kids into spending their parent’s money on online games, child advocates said Tuesday in a letter to the company.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and other advocacy groups asked the tech firm in January to shutter Facebook’s Messenger Kids, arguing the advertisement-free app could lead to depression, unhealthy sleep habits and lower self-esteem.

Advocacy groups are renewing calls that Facebook pull the plug on the app because they’re concerned the company is knowingly exploiting children. Facebook reportedly encouraged “friendly fraud” by encouraging game developers to let kids spend their parent’s money without their consent, according to Reveal, a website run by the Center for Investigative Reporting. The nonprofit news organization cited more than 135 pages of unsealed court documents from a 2012 class action lawsuit. 

“The documents appear to demonstrate that Facebook is willing to cause actual harm to children
and families in its quest for profit,” the advocacy groups said in a Tuesday letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “As such, Facebook is unfit to make any platform or product for children, especially one like Messenger Kids.”

Facebook, which launched Messenger Kids in December 2017, said the unsealed documents from the 2012 lawsuit are completely unrelated to Messenger Kids.

“Messenger Kids was released in 2017 and built from the ground up with input from families as well as privacy and safety experts to protect kids’ privacy and put parents in control,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “We have heard from child safety advocates that Messenger Kids is one of the safest apps for kids to connect with their family and friends.”

At least 10 advocacy groups had signed the letter by Monday night, including Common Sense, Badass Teachers Association, Defending the Early Years and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

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