Facebook's Messenger Kids lets under-13s chat with parent-approved contacts

It's the world's happiest phone! Because it's running Facebook Messenger for Kids

It's the world's happiest phone! Because it's running Facebook Messenger for Kids

Kids wanting to add another kid as their contact must have approval from the parents of both the kids, in addition to the condition that the parents should also be connected in Facebook through their accounts.

"We remain concerned about where sensitive information collected through this app could end up and for what objective it could be used", they wrote.

Lavallee, who is content strategist at the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard University, called Messenger Kids a useful tool that makes parents the gatekeepers.

"This app has the potential to provide a safe space for children entering the digital world, but it does raise a number of privacy and security concerns", Senators Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) write Thursday in a letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg. After downloading the Messenger Kids app on your child's iPad, iPod touch or iPhone from the App store, you're required to authenticate your child's device using your own Facebook username and password.

"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", said Loren Cheng, a product management director at Facebook.

Kids still can't be found through Facebook search, which protects their privacy. The main catch is that these kids can only engage Facebook users through the new app as long as their parents or guardians approve of them.

Davis said that, if a parent decides to delete their child's account, Facebook will also delete any data from its own servers.

"Finally, Facebook can implement built-in mechanisms into the app itself, e.g., a turn-off timer, that supports a healthy media diet and regulates time spent on devices versus doing something else".

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Facebook's focus on younger children raised some alarm bells, however.

"While kids have more ways than ever to learn and benefit from online experiences, three out of four parents say they worry about their kids' online safety and want more control".

Facebook has been careful to comply with the law, Montgomery said. "I think we're at an interesting moment, and there are a lot of moves into that marketplace".

The app is now only available in the USA on Apple's iOS operating system.

The app, which specifically targets 6 to 12-year-olds, gives pre-teens access to a beta version of Facebook Messenger, without the need to create a live Facebook account. The company has no plans to release a similar kids-only platform for its other main social network, Instagram.

"The reality is that kids are going to go use apps if they're under 13", he said.

Facebook's approach may encourage companies to create safer, more limited and legally compliant services for kids, said Larry Magid, chief executive of the nonprofit ConnectSafely.org, one of many organizations Facebook briefed on the product ahead of its launch. "The question becomes do we simply ban them and fight a losing fight?"

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