Facebook made a Messenger app that's just for kids

Vladimir SmirnovĀ  Getty Images

Vladimir SmirnovĀ  Getty Images

"After talking to thousands of parents, associations like National PTA, and parenting experts in the USA, we found that there's a need for a messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want", Cheng wrote.

Facebook is now rolling out the app for iOS users in the United States, while the Android version is expected to launch soon.

Facebook is launching a messaging app for children so they can communicate with their parents and parent-approved friends.

The move opens up a new way for Facebook to compete with Snap's disappearing-photo and chat app, which is popular among younger teenagers. "It has created a "walled garden" messenger service designed exclusively for younger children; established strong parental controls; kept the service free of advertising; and restricted the use of many data collection and targeting practices that are employed routinely in its other services", she said. Despite US federal law prohibiting companies from collecting personal information on those under 13 years old without parental consent, millions are already on Facebook, with or without their parents' permission, says Stephen Balkam, chief executive of the nonprofit Family Online Safety Institute. According to Facebook, Messenger Kids is meant to be a way of introducing children to digital communication in a safe and accessible way. Will you let your kids use it? These controls are accessible through the main Facebook app. Sure you could use an app like FaceTime or Hangouts, but a lot of them don't offer the kind of control that parents want, especially for really young kids.

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Creating a Messenger Kids account is not the same as creating a Facebook account. Parents must install the app for their offspring, and they are also responsible for setting up a whitelist of contacts with whom chatting is permitted. Facebook says the new app is only available in the U.S., with plans to expand its availability beyond iOS to the Amazon App Store and Google Play Store in the coming months.

"American parents are really protective of their young kids' privacy and social interactions", said Jenny Radesky, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of MI, C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.

It's worth noting here that Facebook itself remains closed to those under 13 years of age. This preview is available on the App Store for iPad, iPod touch, and iPhone. Amazon has also added kid-focused "skills" to its Echo smart speakers, which require a parent's permission to activate.

While on the surface Messenger Kids seems relatively innocuous, the underlying motive here can not go unmentioned. The social network also is looking at building controls around how much time a child can spend on the app. A recent study from Common Sense Media found that parents are more skeptical of the benefits of social media for their children then they are of smartphones or even wearable devices.

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