A group of Democratic lawmakers has expressed “serious concerns” over Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) exploring plans to launch a new version of the photo-sharing tool Instagram intended specifically for children.
What Happened: Senators Edward Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) as well as Representatives Lori Trahan (D-MA) and Kathy Castor (D-FL) wrote a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Monday, asking him to reveal more details about the company’s plan regarding an Instagram version for users under the age of 13.
“Given Facebook’s past failures to protect children and in light of evidence that using Instagram may pose a threat to young users’ wellbeing, we have serious concerns about this proposal,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.
The lawmakers cited the example of Facebook’s Messenger Kids app, intended for kids between the ages of six and 12, which contained a significant design flaw that allowed children to enter group chats with people their parents had not approved.
The letter also raised several questions, including how Facebook will handle the private data of young users and whether the platform will always be completely free of targeted advertising. They asked Facebook to commit not to sell or share any user data with third parties for commercial purposes.
The lawmakers said that if Facebook’s aim is to decrease the number of young users on its current Instagram platform, it should invest in efforts to do that directly. Facebook’s alternative approach “involves serious challenges and may do more harm than good,” they added.
The letter asks Facebook to provide answers to the set of questions by April 26.
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Why It Matters: Facebook acquired Instagram almost a decade ago for $1 billion. It has become one of its most popular products at a time when its main social networking property has failed to resonate with some younger users. Instagram currently requires that users must be at least 13 years old.
Facebook plans to launch the new Instagram version for children as part of its efforts to woo the younger generation to try out its popular products. The company said it is exploring bringing a parent-controlled experience to Instagram to help kids keep up with their friends and discover new hobbies as well as interests.
Facebook’s Messenger Kids app, launched in December 2017, is also aimed at pre-teens. The ad-free app is activated and contacts are controlled through parents’ Facebook accounts, a factor that allows the company to work around legal limits prohibiting under-13 platform use.
Price Action: Facebook shares closed almost 0.9% lower on Tuesday at $306.26.
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