Facebook has launched a new version of its Messenger chat “Messenger Kids” app designed for children ages 6 to 13 with strict parental controls including contact approvals.
The new app does not require a Facebook account — due to federal law, users under the age of 13 cannot legally sign up for Facebook. The service won’t let children add their own friends or delete messages — only parents can do that. Kids don’t get a separate Facebook or Messenger account; rather, it’s an extension of a parent’s account. Facebook has launched the app on 4th December 2017 in preview with a limited rollout on iOS.
Facebook says it’s going to great lengths to make sure the app does not come off as exploitative. Facebook also said it will not automatically move users to the regular Messenger or Facebook when they get old enough, though the company may provide them the option to move contacts to Messenger down the line.
“There are no ads in Messenger Kids and your child’s information isn’t used for ads. It is free to download and there are no in-app purchases,” the company writes in a blog post.
Facebook says the new app is only available in the US, with plans to expand its availability beyond iOS to the Amazon App Store and Google Play Store in the coming months.
Children can start one-on-one or group video or text chats with approved contacts, sending videos, photos, gifs and other creative elements from a library of screened drawing tools, frames, gifs, masks and stickers. The app also gives parents the ability to control a child’s contact list, while a more spartan home screen shows pre-approved friends that are online and preexisting one-on-one chats and group threads.
Loren Cheng, a product management director at Facebook, said: “Whether it’s using video chat to talk to grandparents, staying in touch with cousins who live far away, or sending mom a decorated photo while she’s working late to say hi, Messenger Kids opens up a new world of online communication to families.”
Facebook also said that it will block children from sharing nudity, sexual or violent content, and have a dedicated moderation team to respond to flagged content. Lavallee, who works at the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard University, called Messenger Kids a useful tool that makes parents the gatekeepers.
To use the app, parents must download it from the App Store and then authenticate it with their Facebook user name and password. Only then can an account be created for a child, with the process requiring only a name for the profile. Stephen Balkam, head of the nonprofit Family Online Safety Institute, said “that train has left the station.” He said Facebook is trying to deal with the situation by steering young Facebook users to a service designed for them.
Representatives of the organization, and the individuals who made this product, may have great expectations, and it’s reasonable Facebook is following the lawful conventions to avert manhandle. Yet, it’s as yet worth bringing up that Facebook is pursuing the next generation of users by focusing on youngsters. It’s not implausible to expect that child users of Messenger Kids will probably need a Facebook account, and that Facebook will make it less demanding later on to relocate a child’s Messenger Kids account over to the main application.