The latest salvo in the wars against social media deemed unsafe for kids, and specifically question and answer site Ask.fm, has been fired from an unlikely spot – the desk of Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler. Gansler sent a letter to advertisers last month outlining his concerns. To date, his actions haven’t gotten a lot of press or attention.
Ask.fm has been linked to numerous teen suicides, and as Gansler points out, is likely in violation of the U.S. regulations defined by the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA). Gansler is appealing to advertisers, asking them to stop advertising on the network as long as the current issues remain. Risks highlighted by the AG, in addition or contributing to teen suicide events, are cyberbullying, identity theft, exposure to predators and general privacy violations. The site doesn’t appear to make an attempt to verify whether users are 13 years of age, a requirement under COPPA, and in no case is parental consent solicited or confirmed.
“This website is putting children at risk and we think it’s important to let major corporate advertisers know how their marketing dollars are spent and what those dollars support,” said Attorney General Gansler. “A growing number of children under 13 use Ask.fm because it makes no meaningful effort to limit underage access, and these kids are being exposed to malicious anonymous postings, including racial slurs, sexual references, drug use and personal assaults.”
When users create an account, they are asked to provide their real name and email address, which is a clear violation of COPPA in the case or minors. After signing up, users are encouraged to provide their real name and location, age and sex, all of which make them very susceptible to being targeted by both bullies and predators.
It would make sense to me for the U.S. Government to take action against Ask.fm, but in the interim, I hope that the advertisers get the message in this case.
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