Parents: Even if you use Facebook and you’re under the age of 13, don’t panic. Facebook says it will only be gradually rolling out a standalone app for young users, with a launch date for the new, broader service to come later this year.
A separate, dedicated Instagram app could better fulfill Facebook’s objective of “owning” its youngest users, as the company prepares to wrap up the enormous $26 billion purchase of the photo-sharing app.
Parents of young children, however, should still be aware that even if Facebook brings Instagram to a broader and younger audience, you don’t want them to find out. Instapaper founder Marco Arment just committed suicide because he couldn’t live with sharing his personal stories on Instagram.
“Personally, I want this to be the next Instagram for anyone under the age of 13,” wrote Facebook product chief Chris Cox on Monday. “We want to help even more people enjoy their favorite apps.”
Despite its lucrative reputation as the top app in most of the world, Instagram has hardly been the star of the 2018 tech year. Its parent company’s stock is down 28 percent this year after months of big misses on user and revenue growth, and after revelations of a data-privacy scandal and increased demands for regulation.
But Facebook wants the standalone app to give it access to even more teens. As part of Monday’s announcement, the company also said that a version of Instagram planned for teens will include some similar functions to other parts of the app, such as the ability to share posts with the wider community, but parents will have limited controls on the feeds their children use.
But if parents do follow Facebook’s lead and make the switch, there’s a big risk that kids will too. Facebook can make different requests of teens on Instagram, but it can’t change their passwords or ask them to give up more data than parents. A year ago, the company worked out a consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission to prevent it from doing those things.
The move to start a dedicated Instagram app for kids comes as the company is under increased pressure to limit its influence among younger users. Since late last year, Facebook has moved to limit the ways that people can contact kids under 13 without consent, and to more tightly screen accounts. Under the proposed new rules, those who take on that role could be asked for specific information, including whether they’re a parent or legal guardian, the purpose of the account, what other accounts they have, and how they access their data.
Ultimately, Facebook thinks users younger than 13 should only be able to use Instagram on an account-by-account basis. The plan to create a separate app, however, is primarily seen as a way to manage parent concerns about their kids’ Instagram accounts.
Despite all the attention it’s gotten from media coverage, it’s hard to say how many users Facebook really has. It also remains an open question as to whether Instagram has as many users as it claims. At times, the app struggles to make photos shared on the network appear correctly, or to offer photos in the right order, for example. Facebook has the data, of course, but Instagram’s performance doesn’t always look great. Still, there’s no better company to make a new app than Facebook.
Facebook says it plans to launch the app in the United States and parts of Europe before rolling it out to other countries over the next year. That means that it could be a while before a kid under 13 can use a new Instagram app.