June 25, 2013 -- If you have heard of Snapchat, chances are that you heard about the chat app from someone under the age of 15. The app, which allows users to share photos and videos that self-destruct within 10 seconds, has become all the rage amongst the younger demographic.
But while Snapchat states in its policy that kids under the age of 13 can't use the service, the company is now officially addressing its tween users with a new feature. Called Snapkidz, if an individual under the age of 13 inputs their correct birthday, instead of being denied access to the app, he or she will still have access to the camera features. However, with Snapkidz you won't be able to send photos or video – you can only overlay text and sketches over images and save them to the phone. Essentially, it takes the chat out of the Snapchat.
"The previous iOS update introduced age-gating, in which we asked people their age on the registration screen and didn't allow them to proceed if the age entered was under 13," Snapchat explained in a blog post. "This was a pretty standard way of handling things, but it didn't provide a very good experience." The feature is available now through the iPhone app and will be added to the Android app if all goes well, says the company.
However, the feature doesn't solve the issue that many kids lie about their birthdays during the sign up process.
"While I believe that many children will use the app, I also believe that kids will be kids," Brian Solis, principal analyst at the Altimeter Group and a noted social media expert, tells ABC News. "The appeal of Snapchat isn't the ability to take pictures and caption or draw on them. The attraction is the self-destruct feature, which naturally begets curiously." Solis suggests that parents check the settings on their kids' devices.
Given that the photos and videos are deleted within seconds, many teens have been said to use the service for "sexting." In January a group of teens told ABC News that they had gotten Snapchats of explicit images, but that they used the service for sharing embarrassing photos that they knew wouldn't be seen again.
"That's kind of like the appeal because the fun of it is to send embarrassing pictures," one teen told ABC News. "Texting is made for words, but now that there's Snapchat now we can communicate through pictures."
Snapchat does comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by offering a proactive age-gate fix for kids interested the app with safety nets built in for those who tell the truth.
"This is noteworthy and important. Not only are kids prevented from sharing, they are also protected from receiving explicit content from older kids and adults," Solis explains.
Snapchat has skyrocketed to become one of the most popular chatting apps for the iPhone and Android phones. Snapchat reports that 200 million messages are shared on the service every day, with 150 million photos uploaded a day. Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel says those photos aren't saved anywhere – they disappear from Snapchat's servers just as they disappear on phones.
The company announced on Monday that it had been valued at $800 million and had received an extra $60 million in venture capital funding. Snapchat plans to add in-app purchases in the coming months.