Just when you thought the world’s largest social network had done it all, it's done something new.
For the first time, Facebook is opening up its messaging service, Messenger, to children under the age of 13 years.
The new app, Messenger Kids, will make it easier for children to safely video chat and exchange text messages with family and friends when they can’t be together in person.
The company highlighted that after talking to thousands of parents, associations like National PTA, and parenting experts in the US, Facebook found the need for a “messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want”.
While US Federal law doesn’t allow users under the age of 13 years to legally sign up for Facebook, the company has given the onus to parents to control which friends or family member the child can contact. Facebook states,
“Parents fully control the contact list and kids can’t connect with contacts that their parent does not approve of. Parents control kids accounts and contacts through the Messenger Kids Controls panel in their main Facebook app.”
Even a new chat request by a non-approved contact needs to be vetted by the parent. Parents are also able to control their child’s Messenger Kids app through their Facebook accounts.
The social media behemoth, however, launched the app in limited rollout with the preview of the app only available on the Apple App Store in the US.
The company clarified that while Messenger Kids is only available for iOS, parents and other approved adults can use any device to chat with the child through their Messenger.
Iin a blog post, Facebook stated that it will be coming to Amazon App Store and Google Play Store in the coming months.
In its introductory blog post, Facebook stated,
“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. Messenger Kids is also designed to be compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA).”
Messenger Kids allows children to:
- Video chat: Have one-on-one or group video chats with parent-approved contacts. Moreover, the company states that the child’s home screen shows them who they are approved to talk to.
- Filter strategy: The app also lets children play with various playful masks, emojis and sound effects.
- Just chat: Messenger Kids also allows children to send photos, videos and text messages to approved contacts, which will be received by adults on their regular Messenger app.
According to a report by TechCrunch, Facebook started research 18 months ago to find out what children and parents wanted out of a potential product.
“It (Facebook) found that kids had the right hardware but the wrong software. Ninety-three percent of 6-12-year-olds in the US have access to tablets or smartphones while 66 percent have their own device. Three out of every five parents surveyed said their kids under 13 years use messaging apps, social media or both,” the TechCrunch report stated .
How do parents sign up their kids?
After downloading their Messenger Kids app on their child’s device, parents need to authenticate using their own Facebook account. However, this doesn’t create any new account for the child or give them access to the parent’s Facebook account.
Only an account on Messenger Kids is created, with parents reviewing the child’s contact list from the Messenger Kids parental control tab on Facebook.
Other things you should know
Keeping it kid-appropriate: All creative tools and filters on the app have been created with kids in mind. Even the GIFs are vetted by the company to be “kid-appropriate”.
Kids can report: The app gives children the power to report inappropriate content if they feel bullied. The option of “something else” on the app lets them provide more context to the incident. In the meantime, the app immediately notifies the parent on the context.
Ad-free: Messenger Kids has been kept as an ad-free experience for the children, Facebook stated.
There are no two ways on the need for active communication channels between children and parents. However, just introducing children to the online world does open the lid to atrocities like cyber bullying.
But reports claim that this hasn’t stopped under-age children from getting hooked to newer apps. One may also look at Facebook’s new move as trying to “catch them early” so as to not lose their consumer base to competition.
The billion-dollar acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram, and launching similar features to competitor Snapchat seem to be building blocks to safeguard its position as market leader.
Tarush is driven towards delivering unbiased and accurate reportage while engaging with as many mediums as possible to narrate a fresh perspective. Working for the past few years in the digital space with YourStory, he has covered the Indian technology ecosystem extensively, focusing on new age Fintech companies, while building strong connects within the industry.