AGs from 44 states warn Mark Zuckerburg NOT to create a new Instagram for under 13s, but Facebook signal they will press ahead regardless

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  • Facebook are planning to create a new Instagram social media platform for children under the age of 13
  • The social media giant has faced fierce criticism in the past for the way it exploits children through advertising, addiction and fear of missing out
  • On Monday, the attorneys general of 44 states wrote to Mark Zuckerburg asking him to abandon plans to build the new platform
  • ‘It appears that Facebook is not responding to a need, but instead creating one,’ the AGs letter said
  • However, Facebook said they planned to press ahead with plans for the platform in a statement on Monday 
  • Companies must obtain parental consent before collecting a child younger than 13’s personal information
  • They must also give parents access to any data they hold about the child, and only retain personal data collected from kids for ‘as long as is necessary’

A bipartisan group of 44 attorneys general has written to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg urging him to drop company plans for a version of Instagram aimed at children under the age of 13.   

Children under 13 are technically not allowed to use the Instagram app in its current form due to federal privacy regulations. 

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But Facebook in March confirmed a report by Buzzfeed News, saying it is ‘exploring a parent-controlled experience’ on Instagram.

The AGs said in the letter said they are concerned about social media’s effects on the physical and emotional well-being of children, the potential for increased cyberbullying, possible vulnerability to online predators, and what they called Facebook’s ‘checkered record’ in protecting children on its platforms. 

‘It appears that Facebook is not responding to a need, but instead creating one, as this platform appeals primarily to children who otherwise do not or would not have an Instagram account,’ said the letter.

The letter was signed by the attorneys general of 40 states, the District of Columbia and three US territories.

‘It’s shameful that Facebook is ignoring the very real threat that social media poses to the safety and well-being of young children in an attempt to profit off of a vulnerable segment of our population,’ Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement.

However, Facebook in a statement Monday said it would press ahead with its Instagram for kids channel and try to work with legislators.

Facebook said the new platform would give parents more control over what children who are already online are exposed to, will make every effort to protect children, and will not show advertising on the platform.

‘We are developing these experiences in consultation with experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates,’ the company said. 

‘We also look forward to working with legislators and regulators, including the nation’s attorneys general.’

Facebook also pointed out that it is a founding sponsor of the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children´s Hospital, launched in March to study the effects of digital technology on kids’ ‘brains, bodies, and behaviors.’

The effort of the attorneys general is backed by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

‘Facebook faces a critical choice: will they plow ahead with their ill-conceived plan to ensnare young children, or will they listen to the growing chorus of parents, experts, advocates, lawmakers and regulators who are telling them that an Instagram kids´ site will undermine young children´s healthy development and right to privacy?’ Executive Director Josh Golin said in a statement.

Facebook faced similar criticism in 2017 when it launched the Messenger Kids app, touted as a way for children between the ages of 6 and 12 to chat with family members and friends approved by parents.

After its launch more than 95 children’s advocates wrote to Zuckerburg after the launch of Messenger Kids calling for the product to be canned as the ‘excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to children and teens’.

Strict privacy laws govern the way companies are allowed to collect data from children younger than 13. 

Messenger Kids attracted further controversy in 2019 when a bug was detected in the app that allowed children to join group chats with strangers.

Under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, any websites used by under 13 year olds must obtain parental consent before collecting a child’s personal information.

They must also give parents access to any data they hold about the child, and only retain personal data collected from kids for ‘as long as is necessary to fulfill the purpose for which it was collected’.

Instagram, who have attempted to implement a ban on under 13s having accounts, appear confident they comply with the laws. 

But behavioral and learning experts have previously spoken out about the way the social media giant’s algorithms appear to be explicitly designed to get children addicted. 

In March, BuzzFeed News obtained an internal company post, which detailed the plans for the new photo-sharing app.

‘I’m excited to announce that going forward, we have identified youth work as a priority for Instagram and have added it to our H1 priority list,’ Instagram’s VP of Product Vishal Shah said in the memo.

‘We will be building a new youth pillar within the Community Product Group to focus on two things: (a) accelerating our integrity and privacy work to ensure the safest possible experience for teens and (b) building a version of Instagram that allows people under the age of 13 to safely use Instagram for the first time.’

Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri would help oversee the project, as well as vice president Pavni Diwanji, who helped oversee YouTube Kids.

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