San Francisco: Facebook on Tuesday announced a new version of its Messenger chat app designed for children ages six to 12. Called Messenger Kids, 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. Rather, parents are able to manage a child’s Messenger Kids app from their Facebook account, controlling which friends and family members the child is able to contact.
Facebook is launching the app on Tuesday 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. “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 Messenger Kids is also designed to be compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act, or COPPA.
That’s the federal law that protects underage children from exploitation online, and it’s the reason so many online services require children be 13 years of age or older in order to sign up. 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.
Messenger Kids is primarily designed to offer video and text chat along with the types of playful masks and filters, originally popularized by Snapchat, that are now prevalent across Facebook’s many messaging products. Facebook says there is a “library of kid-appropriate and specially chosen GIFs, frames, stickers, masks and drawing tools lets them decorate content and express their personalities.” 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.
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. Contacts are added through an “Explore” section of the app that should let parents search and find other contacts. Users with existing Facebook accounts, like relatives, can create Messenger Kids accounts to chat with the children, with parents having control over which contacts are approved and show up as online when a child uses the app.
Now Facebook is creating a pipeline for children to become regular users of its products, starting as young as six years old, by claiming to offer an alternative better than what it exists today.
Employees of the company, and those who created this product, may have good intentions, and it’s clear Facebook is following the legal protocols to prevent abuse.