Facebook’s new app, Lifestage, is a social network specifically for high schoolers. But you don’t have to actually be a high schooler to use it.
The app, which was created by 19-year-old Facebook employee Michael Sayman, is designed for teens to find and connect with other people who go to their school. Instead of directly messaging each other, high schoolers are supposed to use the app to share selfies and videos that all of their classmates can watch.
Lifestage is so focused on reaching high schoolers that it blocks people who list their age as over 21 in the app from joining a school or looking up other accounts.
But there’s one catch: you can easily fake your age in the app and pretend to be a high schooler.
When you first open Lifestage, it asks you to create an account with a phone number and enter your age. Even though the app is owned by Facebook, there’s no option to sign in with a Facebook account.
A Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider that it created Lifestage after hearing feedback from teenagers who said there wasn’t a good social network for finding who went to their school. The spokesperson also said that requiring only a phone number was meant to encourage teens without Facebook accounts to use the app.
While testing Lifestage, I created one account that said I was 124 years old. I wasn’t able to add myself to a high school or search for any accounts. Then I created another account that said I was 18 years old. In a matter of seconds, I could easily choose from a list of nearby high schools I wanted to join.
If it seems odd to you that an app that’s specifically designed for and aimed at minors doesn’t have any safeguards to prevent adults from posing as minors, you’re not alone.
Lifestage’s lack of age authentication and visibility settings pose serious privacy concerns, according to Common Sense Media, a non-profit organisation that educates families about internet safety for children.
“Our view is that parents should most certainly pay attention,” Common Sense Media president Amy Guggenheim Shenkan told Business Insider in an interview. “There are some features in the app that are concerning.”
Shenkan said that, because Lifestage doesn’t show you who watches your videos, it could give “kids a false sense of security” that they’re only being watched by their peers.
When Facebook first launched its social network for college students in 2004, users were required to provide a college email address in order to sign up. High school students don’t typically have a school-provided email address, which makes it tougher to implement a similar system for Lifestage.
But Facebook would not say why the service doesn’t include some kind of system to prevent adults from posing as high school students.
A Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider that users can report “concerning activity” in the app and that the company will investigate reports like it does for normal Facebook accounts. The spokesperson also said that a Lifestage account can only be tied to one phone number as “an additional level of protection and enforcement.”
Here’s Facebook’s full statement:
“We are releasing Lifestage to a limited number of high schools. Lifestage will not provide access to content from other people for users who list an age above 21. We encourage anyone using the app who experiences or witnesses any concerning activity to report it to us through the reporting options built into the app. We take these reports seriously. Unlike other places on the web, Lifestage is tied to a person’s phone number and only one account is allowed per phone number — this provides an additional level of protection and enforcement.”
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