December 4, 2017 / 5:57 PM / 12 days ago

Breakingviews - Facebook targets children with Snap rip-off

By Jennifer Saba

A large logo is seen at Facebook's headquarters in London, Britain, December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - Facebook is launching a messaging app for kids under 12. It’s a bid to attract a new generation of users by a company struggling to lure youngsters from Snapchat. Yet it’s also a political gamble for the $500 billion social-networking site.

The firm founded and led by Mark Zuckerberg unveiled the new product on Monday. Intended for children as young as 6, the app has all sorts of features including video-chat functions and filters like cat ears and rainbows that would look familiar to anyone proficient at Snapchat.

Facebook is billing the stand-alone messaging app as a safe space for kids that allows them to connect with their friends while giving parents control. There is no advertising and users won’t automatically convert to Facebook once they hit the minimum user age of 13.

The rollout is part of an effort to regain status among a fickle bunch of tweens and teens. Research firm eMarketer projected that for the first time this year, Facebook will see its U.S. users age 12-17 decline, by 3.4 percent to about 14.5 million. Zuckerberg has Instagram, which is still popular with the young set, and has aggressively been copying Snapchat. But even so, Snapchat is expected to overtake both the photo-sharing site and its parent in terms of users in both the 12-17 and 18-24 brackets, eMarketer reckons.

Meanwhile, regulators in the United States and in Europe are keeping increasingly close tabs on Facebook and other social-media platforms. Company executives have already testified in Congress about fake Russian ads that were placed on the network in an effort to sway the presidential election. In Europe, it faces a threat from a new European Union regulation that, from May 2018, will require companies to seek explicit consent from consumers before using their personal data. At a time when the company’s operations are under a microscope, chasing after elementary-school kids will inevitably invite even closer scrutiny.

Breakingviews

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