Facebook launches Messenger Kids app for under-13s

4 Dec 2017

Facebook Messenger Kids will give parents more control. Image: Facebook

The preview of Messenger Kids is launching in the US first.

Many parents are growing increasingly concerned about the impact technology is having on their children, and worries around online safety within chat apps are particularly common.

To try and combat this, safety and product teams at Facebook worked together with parenting organisations and experts to create Messenger Kids.

Messenger Kids, which previews in the US today (4 December), is a standalone app that exists on kids’ devices but can be remotely monitored by a parent’s Facebook account.

Not the same as a Facebook account

Facebook said it has dealt with a lot of concerns and queries from parents about what platforms are appropriate for children to use, and it has tried to address these with the new app.

Messenger Kids accounts are not the same as regular Facebook accounts, and do not turn into regular accounts once the child turns 13.

All contacts on Messenger Kids are pre-approved by parents or guardians, and the home screen can show the user who is online at a glance. Parents have full control of the contact list, and kids cannot talk to users who have not been given the go-ahead by a trusted adult.

Kids can video chat and send photos, videos and text messages to approved adults, who will receive them on their regular Messenger app.

Messenger Kids is also ad-free, and there are no in-app purchases.

It is currently only available on iOS in the US, but will be rolled out to Google Play Store and Amazon App Store in the next few months.

Dealing with tech-savvy kids

Global head of safety at Facebook, Antigone Davis, discussed the difficulties of raising children in a digital world: “My daughter and online technologies have grown up together. She’s always been more adept than I am at moving around in her digital universe, and I’ve often found myself anxiously trying to keep up.

“I know I’m not alone in the questions I’ve asked, the mistakes I’ve made and the worries I’ve had as a parent when it comes to kids and technology. As a mom and a former teacher and policy adviser for a state attorney general, I have heard many people voice these concerns.”

She said research showed that about 93pc of kids aged between six and 12 in the US regularly access smartphones and tablets, and three out of every five parents surveyed said their children under 13 use messaging apps, social media or both.

Davis added: “We know that when building for kids, we have to get it right, and we’re taking that responsibility seriously.

“Simply complying with the law is not enough. We want to create technologies that benefit, rather than harm or are merely neutral on, the lives of children. We’re proceeding carefully and will share what we learn along the way.”

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects