Last week, the Times ran an article about a new website promising to be “Facebook for Kids”: School Together Now. According to the article, an ordinary mother of 3 got the idea for the site to allow parents to be more involved with their kids, and to give children aged 7-12 the benefits of social networking (Facebook, for example, limits membership to those older than 13). School Together Now is set to officially launch on the first of the year, but is already open for public registration and has been written up several times by the press.
We’ll leave the question of whether young children need a social network for sociologists and psychologists; there are difficult enough questions on how to design security for this vulnerable age group. Jonathan Anderson and I reviewed School Together Now and were disturbed with its lack of answers. The first thing we noticed was that logging in without entering any username or password provided full access via the account of the user “Amber Munt” (this works from the log-in box displayed after clicking “Children->Register/Login”). The next thing we noticed was the site’s About Us page, which states the goal of allowing advertisers to “Get themselves in front of their favourite customers (i.e. parents with deep pockets!)” Further investigation revealed a pattern of poor security choices driven by the desire for rapid commercialisation, which is inexcusable for a site specifically marketed at young children. Continue reading Think of the children