Privacy fears over new teen ‘Lifestage’ app
Facebook has launched a new app for under 21s, encouraging them to share videos of their thoughts, feelings and opinions. There are no privacy settings. Should we worry about oversharing?
Michael Sayman has been building successful apps since he was 13 years old; his first attempt earned enough money to help pay off his parents’ mortgage. Six years later, he has been working for Facebook founder and technology billionaire Mark Zuckerberg. His job? To create an app for teenagers that could rival Snapchat.
The result is Lifestage, an iPhone app which was recently launched in the USA. It is aimed at high schools, and asks students to answer questions on their profile: who is your best friend? How do you dance? What does your happy face look like? Instead of text, each answer comes in the form of a video. You can then see the profiles of the other people at school and in your area.
The idea was inspired by early versions of Facebook in 2004, when the site was a way for university students to get to know each other on campus. Eight years later, 1.7 billion people use it every month — but as more parents and grandparents log in, teenagers have migrated elsewhere. ‘I wanted to work on an app that my friends would want to use,’ says Sayman.
The appeal is that users over 21 cannot see anyone else’s profile, meaning it is exclusively for young people. But some have already raised privacy concerns. ‘We can’t confirm that people who claim to go to a certain school actually go to that school,’ the app itself admits. And: ‘All videos you upload to your profile are fully public content.’
In other words, there are no privacy settings. Will teenagers care?
There are many reasons to be sceptical about the lack of privacy on social media, from the risk of identity fraud to concerns about future employment. But less than half of teenagers say they are ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ concerned about online privacy, and over 90% post photos of themselves and use their real name. Is it a good idea to share so much of ourselves online?
Sharing is caring
Zuckerberg believes that sharing everything helps to make the world a ‘better place’. By being transparent about our experiences, we encourage each other to be ‘more understanding’, he said in February. As well as revealing our own identities, we are also liking and learning from others. Facebook’s mission is to ‘help people connect’ — and when you give people a voice, you give them power.
This is a very unrealistic vision, respond his critics. For one thing, the things we share online are not true reflections of ourselves — they are carefully selected, and often filtered and edited to perfection. Meanwhile, the fear that the world is watching could keep people from taking risks, growing and making mistakes. ‘If you feel the mic is always on, you’re far more likely to do something anodyne,’ argues the writer Gary Younge.
- Would you and your friends use the Lifestage app?
- Is it healthy for everyone to share things about their life online?
- Inspired by Michael Sayman, design an app to be used by teenagers in school.
- Imagine a future where every action or conversation takes place online and in public. Everything is recorded forever. Write a short story exploring how this would affect your decisions.
Some People Say...
“Privacy is dead.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- I want to use social media, but I’m worried about privacy. What should I do?
- Most major social networks do have privacy settings which mean you can control who sees your content. When you do post, be careful not to give out information like your address, phone number or location. And if someone is harassing you, or if you suspect they are not who they say they are, make sure you report them.
- Will the app be popular?
- There are so many social media apps out there, it is difficult to predict which will take off, and which will endure once the burst of initial popularity is over. So far, Lifestage has received mixed reviews, with two-and-a-half stars on the App Store. ‘Kinda sorta creepy,’ wrote one user. ‘I don’t like how much information you have to give out,’ said another.
- The site was launched by a 19-year-old Zuckerberg in February 2004. As a student, he was not particularly concerned about privacy — before Facebook came Facemash, which used other students’ information without their permission.
- 1.7 billion
- As of July 2016. It is, as Zuckerberg himself pointed out, ‘as many people as were alive 100 years ago’.
- Identity fraud
- The British fraud prevention company Cifas said that identity theft increased by 57% last year. It described Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as ‘hunting grounds’ for personal information such as names, dates of birth, addresses and bank details.
- Future employment
- In 2015, a survey by the American recruitment company CareerBuilder found that 51% of hiring managers use social media to research potential employees.
- Less than half
- According to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center, 31% of American teenagers are ‘somewhat’ concerned and just 9% are ‘very’ concerned about online privacy.
- Dull, or unlikely to cause offence. Would it be better to use social media more creatively, even if it risked a negative response?