Messenger Kids app data collection reportedly breaking COPPA

Oct 3, 2018 19:52 GMT  ·  By  ·  Comment  · 

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and 17 other organizations have filed a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission accusing Facebook of breaking the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The groups signing the FTC complaint argue that Facebook's Messenger Kids application is illegally collecting children's personal information even when parental consent is not given.

Moreover, the letter says that Facebook has not added a COPPA-compliant mechanism for requesting verifiable parental consent before collecting and managing information about users under 13.

Messenger Kids is a social network designed explicitly by Facebook to target young children, between the ages of 6 and 12, who can't create their own Facebook accounts or use the parent social network until they're 13.

The organizations signing the complaint also say that such a mechanism should guarantee that the user giving consent for collecting the data is the parent of the child who uses the Messenger Kids account, which is supposedly not true at this point.

"The Messenger Kids application allows anyone who has a Facebook account and claims to be an adult to create and “verify” an account for a child," says the letter sent by the CCFC to the FTC.

Messenger Kids' privacy policy is too vague and doesn't follow COPPA's recommendations

Moreover, Messenger Kids requires the Facebook account of the parent for creating an account and for adding contacts, but according to CCFC's tests, this is easily circumvented by creating a new Facebook account and using it to make a new fictional Messenger Kids account.

Furthermore, the FTC complaint (.PDF) states that the Facebook Messenger Kids’ privacy policy is also designed to be vague and incomplete, and not following COPPA's requirements.

To be more exact, COPPA commands companies who receive parental consent to collect their kids' private info need to list the contact information and name of all third parties with access to the collected data.

"Despite Facebook’s promises to the contrary, Messenger Kids blatantly violates COPPA’s protections for children’s privacy by collecting children’s personal information without informed, verifiable parental consent," said Jim Graves, Staff Attorney at IPR. "In fact, Facebook’s parental verification method is similar to one the FTC rejected in 2013. The FTC should act quickly to stop Facebook’s violation of children’s privacy."

As reported by CCFC, Mark Zuckerberg was also sent a letter (.PDF) signed by over 100 experts and advocates on January 30, which asked him to stop the Messenger Kids app undermining kids' healthy development.

In addition, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood organization also started a petition asking Facebook to shut down the Messenger Kids platform.

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