It’s an interesting experiment: The creators of Snapchat, the social app for sharing photos that disappear in seconds, have just introduced SnapKidz, a non-social photo app for kids under 13 with Apple mobile devices (it’s not yet available for Android). So, true to its name, it’s basically the snap without the chat. It’s also the ephemeral photo-sharing app without the ephemeral part. Kids’ photos don’t necessarily disappear in SnapKidz; they can be saved to their iPhone’s camera roll. The way it works is, kids can “take photos and videos, add captions and drawings,” according to Snapchat’s guide for parents, but they can’t create a Snapchat account (so they can’t provide the company with any personal information, which would be a violation of the kids’ privacy law called “COPPA”), add friends or send or receive snaps.
So the main reason why it’s an interesting experiment is that Snapchat’s defining, game-changing characteristics – which created a new category of digital socializing and “safety” (from what some found to be the exhausting self-presentation and daunting permanent and uncontrollable nature of social media before it) – aren’t part of SnapKidz. Which makes it much safer.
App safer, but what about kids?
The thing is, while this may make Snapchat much safer, it doesn’t make kids much safer. Kids can just move on to other apps that provide both photo effects and sharing – on Apple or Android devices (search for “photo editing,” “photo effects” or “drawing” in Google Play). Or they can just use SnapKidz to play with photos, save them, and – and then share them with friends with a myriad other photo-sharing tools, such as via texting, emailing, Instagram, Twitter, etc. And if not tipped off in advance (that they’ll be redirected if s/he says s/he’s under 13), it won’t take a determined kid long to figure out that he or she can just delete SnapKidz and start over – “delete the app, re-install it and sign up for a new account with a false birth year,” as my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid writes at Forbes.com.
Kids vote with their feet
This well-intended product development is fine – maybe it’ll catch on with kids and they won’t lie about their age to get Snapchat so they can play with their friends+spontaneity+photography rather than just photography. But it shouldn’t give anybody a false sense of security. 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. They vote with their feet (and their workarounds). Which is why it’s silly to depend on safe products and laws rather than on the power of informed, loving parent-child communication about kids’ social experiences wherever they play out – on devices and in digital spaces just as much as in all the other parts of life.