Summits Yellow

Facebook's New Teen App Prompts Privacy Concerns

Tim Maytom

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Teenagers are in many ways the lifeblood of the digital world. Mobile native, constantly seeking new ways to connect with their friends, and highly sought after by marketers, capturing the teen audience can boost an app to the next level.

When Facebook first launched, it achieved this by limiting entry to university students, creating a buzz around the exclusivity before opening up to the rest of the world. However, with the social network increasingly filled with older users, the company is worried that teens have started to flee to apps like Snapchat and Music.ly.

Lifestage is Facebook's attempt at recapturing that audience, with functionality limited for over 21s in an effort to keep out the "olds", and a focus on video content and connecting users with others at their high school.

The app, which is available in the US on iOS at the moment, asks users to capture videos to answer the sort of questions that used to be filled out on a Facebook profile – likes, dislikes, who your best friend is – as well as more video-friendly requests like recording different expressions and dances. These videos are then shared with other users who attend the same school.

The app's design was spearheaded by Michael Sayman, a 19 year old product manager at Facebook who made thousands designing gaming apps before he was snapped up by the social network.

"Over the past two years, my focus and job at Facebook has been to learn about and understand content production and sharing towards the future with video and more. From how we as people create content, to how we share it and more," said Sayman in a post announcing the app's release. "Lifestage looks back at the days of Facebook from 2004 and explores what can be done if we went back and turned the crank all the way forward to 2016 with video-first."

However, the app is already facing criticisms for what is perceived as lax privacy controls, especially given that teenagers are the core audience.

Supposedly, users aged 22 and older will only be able to create and see their own profile on Lifestage, but there are no age verification tools on the app, and no checks when users claim to belong to a particular school. Users are also encouraged to give our their contact details and user names for other apps like Instagram and Snapchat.

Reviews for Lifestage on the App Store have already made note of the lack of privacy controls, with one users stating that they "don't like how much information you have to give out" and another calling the app "sorta creepy".

The app's description does come with a warning, stating that "everything you post in Lifestage is always public and viewable by everyone, inside and outside your school" and that "we can't confirm that people who claim to go to a certain school actually go to that school".

Whether Lifestage will prove successful in fighting back against the popularity of apps like Snapchat remains to be seen, but this rocky start does not bode well for it being the app Facebook needed to bring teens back into its ecosystem.