Facebook’s former head of security says Apple and Google can help keep kids safe online

Director of the Stanford Internet Observatory and Facebook’s former chief of security Alex Stamos believes operating system makers Apple and Google should do their part in keeping kids safe from social media apps. Stamos says lawmakers should be looking to tech giants to help keep kids off of apps that may be inappropriate to them rather than relying on age gates.

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Apple and Google can help keep children safe online, says Alex Stamos

As reported by Protocol, Stamos says there is no use in asking for birthdates during app set up as kids can just input a fake date. He suggests that Apple and Google should include a flow triggered during a device’s setup that asks if the primary use is a child and stores their birthdate locally. Stamos will present his suggestion to Congress when he testifies on Thursday.

If lawmakers really wanted to keep kids off of those apps in a way that wasn’t so easy to circumvent, they might be better served focusing on a different point in the tech stack.

“Require mobile devices (phones and tablets) sold in the US to include a flow, triggered during initial setup, that asks if the primary user is a child and stores their birthdate locally. The calculated age (rounded to year) should be provided via API to every app,” Stamos suggested. If device makers required ages at setup, Stamos wrote, then app stores could use that likely more reliable information to filter out underage users, rather than relying on their own insufficient age gates.

Stamos also said that lawmakers should force developers to use child safety plans that vary based on a user’s age since a six-year-old may require different restrictions than a sixteen-year-old.

Lawmakers could also require apps that allow kids on their platforms to publish “child safety plans” that vary based on how old the user is, Stamos added. A 6 year old, after all, needs different guardrails than a 16 year old. “We are way too early in the field to have a unified set of product features that work for everybody,” he wrote, “but we can at least encourage thoughtful design.”

Stamos previously commented on Apple’s controversial CSAM plan saying the tech giant’s approach to scanning and iMessage exploitation may have caused more harm than good for the cybersecurity community.

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About the Author

Asma is an editor at iThinkDifferent with a strong focus on social media, Apple news, streaming services, guides, mobile gaming, app reviews, and more. When not blogging, Asma loves to play with her cat, draw, and binge on Netflix shows.

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