Every social media company wants to get ahold of the millions of tech-savvy kids that have yet to hit 13, but building a service for them that passes legal muster is extremely challenging. Because of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), kids under 13 can’t have Facebook or Twitter logins, they can’t have chat elements, and they can’t post their photos online or use their real names.
In short, they can’t do most of the things people like to do on social netorks. As Path learned the hard way, after underage kids snuck onto the platform, mishandling COPPA compliance can be costly.
But disposable photo messaging service Snapchat is taking the plunge, with a new service just for kids. Before announcing a major $65 million round of Series B funding that valued the company at $800 million, the hot startup unveiled its next project: SnapKidz. As its name suggests, SnapKidz is a message-free sandbox that is accessible through the traditional SnapChat app, geared towards kids under 13.
It is a very straightforward program: When creating a SnapChat account for the first time, anyone with a birthdate newer than 2000 will be redirected to the kid-friendly platform. There, users can experiment with drawing and taking photos, and saving the results onto the phone or tablet. No messages can be sent or received through the platform, so everything is local — and COPPA compliant — as SnapChat doesn’t directly access any information from the child.
Although it’s painfully simple and devoid of the disposable novelty that SnapChat is known for, SnapKidz obviously figures: Hook them while they’re young, and they could be loyal for a long time.
It’s a poorly kept secret that kids are all over social media. While kids are still rarely documented in statistics on social media (due to COPPA’s grip on ensuring social media networks don’t keep private information for minors under 13), an anecdotal study from Consumer Reports published in 2011 indicated that roughly 7.5 million kids under 13 are using Facebook. Because of the large numbers, social networks are eager to tap into their young user base without aggravating the government — which is increasingly forcing a two-factor sign-up system that requires parental consent to continue.
In many ways, SnapKidz is the next generation of children’s social media, and one that manages to toe the line between pleasing kids, parents and the government. While there’s still wiggle room to lie about ages during sign-up (which is a problem across the board, with everything from alcohol websites to redband trailers and, least surprisingly, porn), SnapKidz can be safely monitored and even used offline, enabling stricter controls for wary parents.