Facebook Launches New Messenger Kids App

Facebook built a new version of Messenger for younger users.                  Facebook

Right now Messenger Kids is designed for sending messages and video chatting, but Facebook hasn't ruled out the possibility of adding new features as it learns more about how people use the app.

Facebook normally requires users to be at least 13 years old. That is still restricted to children age 13 and up. It's completely independent of the flagship Facebook and Messenger apps, and is compliant with the Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act. And Facebook indicated that it won't use Messenger Kids to monetize children directly - there won't be any ads or in-app purchases.

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. Although Facebook remains the largest social network - and Messenger has grown into one of the most popular messaging platforms in the world - signing up new users now presents a new challenge, given how mature and wide-reaching they already are.

Messenger Kids is launching in preview today for iPhone and iPad users in the USA and will be targeting 6 to 13-year-olds with a child-friendly alternative to the main Messenger app. Parents have to use their own Facebook credentials to authenticate a device for use with the new Messenger Kids app, and parents have full and final say over who the kid is able to connect with through Messenger.

Monday's unveiling was billed as a preview because so far it is only available in the United States and only on iOS, or Apple operating systems.

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"The risk of exposure to things they were not developmentally prepared for is huge", she said.

While children do use messaging and social media apps designed for teenagers and adults, those services aren't built for them, said Kristelle Lavallee, a children's psychology expert who advised Facebook on designing the service. "We appreciate that for now, the product is ad-free and appears created to put parents in control". What data are they collecting and exactly how are they using it? These controls are accessible through the main Facebook app. But that safety depends on the fact that kids won't know their parents' Facebook passwords. She first heard of Facebook's interest in children 5 or 6 years ago and urged it not to create a full social network for children.

Children who feel they are being bullied can report content or contacts.

She said, "For a child who is just now starting out in social media to have certain restrictions and parental guidance, that is important". And, a library of kid-appropriate and specially chosen GIFs, frames, stickers, masks and drawing tools lets them decorate their content and express their personalities. That's simple really: It's all about getting kids on board earlier so that they are "Facebook-aware" by the time they hit 13. Facebook says it will have an Android version of the app ready to go soon, but for now, kids are limited to chatting on an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch.

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