Facebook launches new kids app

Facebook now has a messaging app just for kids

But Facebook says parents have complete control of the app, through their own accounts, from which they must approve all of their children's contacts before kids can begin chatting.

Teens might be migrating to new social media platforms these days, but Facebook thinks it can reach an even younger demographic-kids as young as six-with a new app called Messenger Kids.

The Internet can be a scary, unsafe place for children, even when parents go to great lengths to control what content, videos, apps and games their offsprings are allowed to access on specially designed tablets and wearable devices.

As for why Facebook is launching the app, the company said in email that "many of us at Facebook are parents ourselves, and it seems we weren't alone when we realized that our kids were getting online earlier and earlier", citing an external study from Dubit that found that 93% of six to 12-year-olds in the USA have access to tablets or smartphones.

Balkam said that he is happy to see Facebook introducing safeguards to protect its youngest users, but added that the new app does not take away all responsibility from parents. Parents use their Facebook email and password to activate their child's account.

Underage users will not be automatically moved to the regular Messenger or Facebook accounts when they become old enough, the company said.

"There's really a gap in the market for a messaging app for kids that also gives parents control", Facebook spokeswoman Lauren Svensson said. This doesn't create a Facebook account for the child or give them access to the parent's account.

Messenger Kids parental controls
Messenger Kids parental

Messenger Kids may be completely separate from Facebook's other apps, but a lot of the parental management happens through Facebook.

Facebook said it had "thought-provoking conversations" around parent controls and responsible online communication with organizations such as National PTA and Blue Star Families in shaping the app.

The app, which is rolling out as a preview to iOS with Android coming later, is only available in the United States for the timebeing.

YouTube has recently received criticism over concerns with its Kids app, which features videos tailored toward children. The app is launching for iPhone immediately, but will eventually come to Android and Amazon Fire devices.

Dr. Lewis Bernstein, former executive vice president of Education, Research and Outreach for the Sesame Workshop, compares the development of Messenger Kids over the last 18 months to those early years of developing "Sesame Street", the long-running, iconic show that now airs on HBO and re-airs on PBS.

It's worth noting here that Facebook itself remains closed to those under 13 years of age.

Messenger Kids will also allow kids to send GIFs and stickers like the full-fledged Messenger, but will have them choose from a curated selection of age-appropriate materials. Further, there would be no advertisements in Messenger Kids, and parents would be able to communicate with Messenger Kids using their existing Messenger app.


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