NEW YORK — Your youngest kids may be itching to join a social network, but as a parent you’re understandably concerned about their safety online -- and are reluctant to let them anywhere near Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook.
Keeping that perspective in mind, Lego this week launched Lego Life, which aims to give kids under 13 their first digital social experience, while at the same time promising to keep them safe. The minimum age to join Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other social networks is 13, though some kids falsify their ages.
Moms and dads will appreciate that safety promise, of course, and Legos are obviously popular with families and kids of all ages. But parents must also be OK with the fact that this free iOS and Android app is a digital venue devoted to all things Lego, in effect a great big advertisement for the brand.
Parents don't seem to mind that the digital channels their kids are engaging in are about promoting products or the brand, says Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy and security lawyer who advises on digital best practices.
Adds Robin Raskin, the founder of Living In Digital Times, which examines the intersection of lifestyle and tech, "Parents don't want to pay for online content. That said, in general I think giving kids a collaborative platform even if it is confined to the world of all things Lego is a step in the right direction."
Indeed, Lego Life is about connecting youngsters to fellow Lego fans. Kids can follow and interact with favorite Lego characters (Lego Batman, Emma from Lego Friends, Master Wu from Lego Ninjago, etc.) and groups (Minecraft, Star Wars, villain stuff).
They’ll come across various Lego challenges and quizzes, and the kids can customize their own personalized 3D avatars or Lego “minifigures.”
Most of all, the youngsters are encouraged to share their digital and physical Lego creations with their peers.
In that respect, Lego Life head Rob Lowe is perfectly cool with the idea that a kid may leave the app for 20 minutes or so to build something out of Lego bricks that he or she can later show off within the app. I suspect many parents will be fine with that as well.
In one challenge, for example, kids are meant to build a favorite place with their physical Legos, and post a picture of it in Lego Life.
In another “Pocket Planet Building Challenge,” the kid’s mission is “to create a mini-world and become a planetary engineer.”
"My top safety tip is balance," Aftab says. "The more things you do offline, the less bad stuff you do online."
The timing of Lego’s launch is interesting given Disney’s announcement this week that it plans to shut down the kid-friendly Club Penguin virtual world game on mobile and desktop devices at the end of March, as it readies a new experience called Club Penguin Island. Club Penguin has been around since 2005; Disney bought it in 2007 in a deal then valued at $700 million.
Aftab says Lego Life is highly evocative of the early days of Club Penguin.
So how does Lego promise to keep your child safe? For starters, kids are prevented from sharing any personal information. Their real names aren’t used; instead, a random name generator creates a profile identity for your child, using three silly words strung together (EmperorPaleCupcake or AuntQuaintWalnut, for example.) Parents are asked to verify kid accounts via email.
While kids can post pictures and videos of their Lego concoctions—and there must be a Lego component to any content that is shared within the app--there can’t be any people or other identifying information in those images.