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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Facebook's announcement Monday that it was "pausing development" on Instagram Kids did little to slow a wave of criticism of the project ahead of a Senate hearing Thursday.

Yes, but: There's an argument to be made for building kids' versions of popular apps, even if their adult versions are causing real-world harms.

Though not without the occasional glitches, Google's YouTube Kids and Facebook's Messenger Kids have largely fulfilled their promise of providing safer alternatives to their less curated grownup counterparts.

  • The risk, of course, is that even if the kids' versions are safe, they will serve as on-ramps to the larger platforms, which themselves can be dangerous.

Be smart: The kids apps may do a solid job of protecting privacy, but their limits also make them unpopular with their target audience — so much so that kids would rather sneak onto Messenger or the full YouTube than use the youth versions.

  • For this reason, companies like TikTok have built specific experiences within its main app for users under 13 that limit certain activities, like video posting or private messaging.

Still, those efforts are also flawed, given how easy it can be for users to circumvent age verifications.

  • For example, the New York Times reported last year that close to one-third of TikTok's daily active users in the U.S. were under 14.

The big picture: Facebook's move to pause work on Instagram Kids follows a slew of negative revelations in a Wall Street Journal series, including internal research showing that Instagram is having a negative impact on girls' self-image. (Facebook on Sunday pushed back on the way the research has been characterized.)

  • Large companies, including Facebook, are being criticized for their work on apps that target kids at the same time that they're being pushed by legislation in the U.K. and elsewhere to create either separate apps or different experiences within their app for younger people.
  • This past summer, several tech companies introduced new policies to protect kids' data in light of a pending law in the U.K. promoting the privacy and wellbeing of young people online.

What to watch: The COVID-19 pandemic saw kids spending more time online, and left overwhelmed parents feeling largely helpless in their ability to regulate screen time, even after lockdowns subsided. That's another reason efforts to introduce new digital apps for kids — even when they might be better alternatives to existing products — encounter skepticism.

What they're saying:

  • Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri, in a post: "We firmly believe that it's better for parents to have the option to give their children access to a version of Instagram that is designed for them — where parents can supervise and control their experience — than relying on an app's ability to verify the age of kids who are too young to have an ID."
  • Common Sense CEO Jim Steyer, in a statement: "Make no mistake that they are still going to try to build it. ... The only thing they care about is hooking kids when they are most vulnerable, keeping them on the platform and getting access to as much of their personal data as possible."
  • Sens. Edward Markey and Richard Blumenthal, Reps. Lori Trahan and Kathy Castor: "Facebook has completely forfeited the benefit of the doubt when it comes to protecting young people online and it must completely abandon this project," the Democratic legislators said in a statement.

Go deeper

D.C. starts 2022 amid COVID-19 surge

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The D.C. region starts the new year dealing with the fallout from the staggering spread of COVID-19.

  • D.C.’s case count has exploded in the past month, shooting up to more than 2,000 cases daily in the last days of 2021 as the highly contagious Omicron variant threatens the region.

How Congress gets the word out

Expand chart
Data: Quorum; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Democrats posted on social media and sent out press releases more than Republicans last year on all platforms except YouTube.

By the numbers: Members of Congress posted on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube 793,483 times between the start of the year and the end of November — slightly up from a total of 784,614 in 2020, according to data and analysis provided to Axios by Quorum.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments — Fauci: "Confident" Omicron cases will peak in February.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Biden admin withdraws temporary vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers — New York Supreme Court strikes down Gov. Hochul's mask mandate for public areas — Sarah Palin tests positive, delaying defamation trial — Virginia school boards sue Gov. Youngkin for lifting mask mandate.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker