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If you’re a parent, you may be questioning how best to integrate your young child into the world of technology and apps. More importantly, how to keep your kid safe.

As technology develops, more and more mobile applications are available and at children’s fingertips, with many products being developed with young children as the target users. Remember, kids are consumers, too!

For example.

Facebook now has a messaging app for children. The app, called Messenger Kids, allows users under the age of 13 to send texts, videos, and photos – with their parent’s permission.

Last year, Google introduced Family Link, an app that allows parents to set up Google accounts for children under age 13, and through this can monitor the apps used, manage screen time, and even set a device bedtime.

Why 13 you may ask? The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requires companies targeting children under 13 to take extra steps to safeguard their privacy and security, particularly with regard to advertising. In the past, many companies simply prohibited children under 13 from using their site.  These companies are now expanding to allow children to use their technology while complying with the law.

Unfortunately, not all applications have kid friendly options.

Popular rideshare apps such as Uber and Lyft have age restrictions in their terms and conditions. You must be at least 18 years old to use the apps, but a recent news story revealed minors are using the app, and drivers often don’t question age. The system is not enforced effectively, which is a safety issue for passengers and drivers.

Other social applications may not even offer an age restriction to sign up.

How to help keep your child safe?

In any case, it’s important to have a conversation with your children about how they use social media applications. Whether you choose to introduce kid-friendly versions, monitor their use, or have them wait until they’re old enough to use the main apps, children should be aware of how to maneuver them safely.

For more information on COPPA for parents and businesses, the Federal Trade Commission has a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page.

For more information on how to talk with your children about staying safe online, visit Stay Safe Online or Safer Internet Day US.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s Lemon Laws and Arbitration Program, Data Breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Programs and the MA Do Not Call Registry.

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