Snapchat, the photo and video-sharing app where images disappear in 10 seconds or less, has launched a new feature for kids under 13. It’s called SnapKidz and it’s just like Snapchat, but deliberately missing one big feature: Kids can’t use the app to share the images or videos with anyone.
The new feature only works in the iOS version and is not a separate app. When a person registers for an account they’re asked for their date of birth. If they’re 13 or older, they get the regular Snapchat experience with the ability to add friends and share images for 10 seconds or less. If they’re under 13 they get the kids’ version that allows them to take snaps, draw on them and save them locally on the device.
To access the new feature, you have to update to the new 5.01 version.
In a blog post, the company said that it’s “trying it out first on iOS and if all goes well, we hope to include it in an upcoming Android update.” The new iOS version has “critical fixes for bugs and crashes,” so the company is recommending it be downloaded for all users.
Important caveats for parents
- Images can still be sent: Like all sandboxes, there are ways to break out of it. Images are saved to the device’s camera-roll so — just as with the native camera app or any photo app — a savvy kid can still email an image or upload it to a social networking site after it’s been taken by leaving Snapchat and sending the image from the camera app or any other app that can access the camera roll.
- Kids can lie about their age on sign-up: Of course there is no way to authenticate whether a user is being honest about his or her age so a kid can enter in a false year of birth to appear 13 or older
- Kids can lie after the fact: If a child wants to use the regular Snapchat instead of SnapKidz, he or she can delete the app, re-install it and sign up for a new account with a false birth year.
And, as my ConnectSafely.org co-director Anne Collier pointed out in a blog post, “products and laws designed to keep kids safe never quite seem to get the fluidity of both kids and social media. If they find a product too safe (i.e. restrictive), they can simply move on.”
Why this special version?
There may be other reasons, but one reason Snapchat can’t offer its regular services to kids is because it would violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which prevents commercial websites from collecting (or disseminating) personally identifiable information from children under 13 without their parent’s consent. The version that Snapchat is offering to children doesn’t collect any information from the child and therefore is in full compliance with COPPA.
Is Snapchat safe for kids under 13?
The fact that it is illegal for commercial sites to collect information from children doesn’t necessarily mean that Snapchat, Facebook FB -2.57%, Instagram and other COPPA-compliant services aren’t safe for children. It just means that it’s illegal for them to collect information without a parents’ consent.
While I don’t have any data on Snapchat use by young kids, I’m sure it is used by many. That’s certainly the case for Facebook, where a 2011 Consumer Reports study found that 7.5 million kids under 13 year old kids use the service, often with their parents permission. And, while lying has its own issues, the fact that kids are there — especially if parents are active in their use — doesn’t mean that they are necessarily doing anything dangerous or disclosing information that could harm them.
Let’s face it, 13 is an arbitrary age. There are people older than 13 who will use the service irresponsibly and kids under 13 who will use it very responsibly. The key for parents is, regardless of your child’s age, to be aware of what they’re using, to talk with them about how they use it and to make sure they’re not posting anything that could embarrass them, endanger them or get them into trouble
A Parents’ Guide to Snapchat
ConnectSafely, the non-profit Internet safety organization where I serve as co-director, has published a free six-page Parents Guide to Snapchat that advises parents on how their kids can more safely and responsibly use the service. There are also Parents Guides to Instagram and Facebook.