Privacy concerns about Facebook LifeStage app

LifeStage: Troubling times for the privacy Generation Z

With the rise and rise of social media society has been irrevocably transformed. Younger generations seem not only to be un-concerned about the private information that’s available about them online, but to actively embrace the sharing of every last detail of their personal lives.

With the launch of LifeStage, Facebook’s new application exclusively for users aged up to 21, comes troubling questions. Honing in on Generation Z’s naturally inclination for self-created video content, it seems that if there were any example of today’s data protection and security issues, then this would be it.

LifeStage: An overview

“LifeStage makes it easy and fun to share a visual profile of who you are with your school network. Simply capture into a field on your profile, then post it on your profile. Once your school is unlocked, you can access the profiles of others in your school community (and all over!) so you can get to know people better in your school and nearby”.

- LifeStage description on the App Store

 

LifeStage is effectively a social network all of its own – built and developed solely for teenagers and twenty to twenty-one year olds. The idea for the app came from teen digital entrepreneur Michael Sayman, who’d already found success with 4Snaps, which secured 2 million users.

LifeStage allows users to upload both video and photo content to visually illustrate their likes, dislikes, friends, favourite dance moves and everything in between. This collection of content is then whipped up into clips that other users may then view.

The launch of LifeStage was pretty understated – going to market without so much as an official announcement. With the app launched only in the US as of yet, it’s perhaps rightly created somewhat of a media storm.

"Social media is a huge part of children’s online lives, and when used correctly, is a brilliant way of keeping in touch with friends and family.

However, there are risks, especially when it comes to privacy settings and protecting personal information.

Facebook's new app, LifeStage, is still in its early days, with limited availability just in the US, and all content public and viewable by anyone. This is hugely concerning, particularly for an app that is built specifically for children. "

- Get Safe Online

An application distinctly at odds with Facebook’s stand for privacy

Mark Zuckerberg has been an outspoken campaigner for communication privacy, indeed, Facebook have been embroiled with globally controversial new stories, such as the FBI’s attempt to weaken encryption across social platforms in their fight against terrorism. Whilst this is a continuous debate in itself (and the wider issues as to governmental surveillance are far beyond this blog), it does beg the question as to why a company so officially opposed to surveillance, is seemingly set on developing an application that willingly and explicitly shares every user posted video with the world – and arguably for users who may be the most desensitised to the dangers of doing so.

"Everything you post in LifeStage is always public and viewable by everyone".

- IOS App Store Disclaimer

The premise of LifeStage is at least worrying - and even this could be an understatement. Security experts from around the world have united in describing LifeStage as "hugely concerning". Tellingly, Facebook post a disclaimer alongside their App Store listing, which arguably foresees the worst of all outcomes – young people placed in danger.

"There is no way to limit the audience of your videos. We can't confirm that people who claim to go to a certain school actually go to that school. All videos you upload to your profile are fully public content"

Central to this debate is the fact that many users are under the impression that their content is not viewable by all, or that it may disappear after a set time.

Whilst this you may believe to be down to naivety (particularly as the disclaimer is so brazenly served up before users), it’s actually not so surpassing, given this platform’s similarity with Snap Chat. There are cutesy frames, effects and animations, and the video focus is something that, until now, no other global social app has focused solely on. What’s more, every social network provides users with at least some control over who sees their content. Every social network asides from LifeStage, that is. This platform provides zero tools for security management, absolutely nothing at all.

What cost may teen users pay for Facebook’s profitability?

LifeStage is a direct effort at capturing, or at least growing, its portion of younger users – a demographic that has proven notoriously difficult for Facebook to interest.

This move follows the platform’s failed bid to purchase Snapchat back in 2013 for $3bn – as well as numerous efforts to make Facebook a platform with similar, SnapChat-like features (including the now defunct disappearing messages; emoji’s for photos and animated filters).

It seems that LifeStage is an attempt to address this distinct market alone – yet with so many concerns the question as to whether vulnerable users may pay a heavy price for profitability is one that must surely be asked.

Facebook’s response to the noise

Of a little comfort, at least for now, is that the LifeStage app is only in Beta form, and is yet to rollout worldwide. Given the reaction, Facebook may as yet bolster the security of the platform. That said, for the time being at least, Facebook’s official word is that the app does indeed boast a security feature (albeit a single, sole feature that is arguably not the strongest).

“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.”

- Facebook Security Spokeswoman