Messenger Kids allows children to chat with their parents and with friends approved by their parents. (Facebook)

Facebook launches parent-controlled Messenger app for kids

It’s currently only available in the U.S. as an app for Apple devices but will be expanded for versions on Android and Amazon tablets

Facebook is coming for your kids.

The social media giant is launching a messaging app for children to chat with their parents and with friends approved by their parents.

The free app is aimed at kids under 13, who can’t yet have their own accounts under Facebook’s rules, though they often do.

Messenger Kids comes with a slew of controls for parents. The service won’t let children add their own friends or delete messages — only parents can do that. Kids don’t get a separate Facebook or Messenger account; rather, it’s an extension of a parent’s account. Messenger Kids came out Monday in the U.S. as an app for Apple devices — the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Versions for Android and Amazon’s tablets are coming later.

A KIDS-FOCUSED EXPERIENCE

While children do use messaging and social media apps designed for teenagers and adults, those services aren’t built for them, said Kristelle Lavallee, a children’s psychology expert who advised Facebook on designing the service.

“The risk of exposure to things they were not developmentally prepared for is huge,” she said.

Messenger Kids, meanwhile, “is a result of seeing what kids like,” which is images, emoji and the like. Face filters and playful masks can be distracting for adults, Lavallee said, but for kids who are just learning how to form relationships and stay in touch with parents digitally, they are ways to express themselves.

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.” But she said that while Facebook made the app “with the best of intentions,” it’s not yet known how people will actually use it.

As with other tools Facebook has released in the past, intentions and real-world use do not always match up. Facebook’s live video streaming feature, for example, has been used for plenty of innocuous and useful things, but also to stream crimes and suicides.

HOOKED ON FACEBOOK

Is Messenger Kids simply a way for Facebook to rope in the young ones?

Stephen Balkam, CEO of the non-profit Family Online Safety Institute, said “that train has left the station.”

Federal law prohibits internet companies from collecting personal information on kids under 13 without their parents’ permission and imposes restrictions on advertising to them. This is why Facebook and many other social media companies prohibit younger kids from joining. Even so, Balkam said millions of kids under 13 are already on Facebook, with or without their parents’ approval.

He said Facebook is trying to deal with the situation pragmatically by steering young Facebook users to a service designed for them.

MARKETING MATTERS

Facebook said Messenger Kids won’t show ads or collect data for marketing, though it will collect some data it says are necessary to run the service. Facebook also said it won’t automatically move users to the regular Messenger or Facebook when they get old enough, though the company might give them the option to move contacts to Messenger down the line.

James Steyer, CEO of the kids-focused non-profit group Common Sense, said that while he liked the idea of a messaging app that requires parental sign-ups, many questions remain. Among them: Will it always remain ad-free, and will parents get ads based on the service?

“Why should parents simply trust that Facebook is acting in the best interest of kids?” Steyer said in a statement. “We encourage Facebook to clarify their policies from the start so that it is perfectly clear what parents are signing up for.”

Just Posted

Narcosli Creek Fire 50% contained; Blackwater River Fire gets more firefighters

An incident management team for fires in the North Cariboo to be established by the end of the week

Quesnel air quality index rating at 10+

Heavy smoke in the air a very high risk for residents

UPDATE: Wildfire on Hawk Road, off Nazko Road, now extinguished

Crews had the fire out within a day after it started Aug. 12

Get involved in the Great Canadian Bumble Bee Count

Environmental organization develops app to help with the nationwide count

Letter: Let marijuana growth in ALR

How much more unproductive land do we want to accumulate in the ALR?

Average Canadian family spends 43% of income on taxes: study

Fraser Institute’s consumer report shows taxes accounting for larger chunk of income each year

Seven people with ties to Red Scorpions gang arrested in B.C. drug bus

Delta police have secured 94 charges against seven people, including drug and firearm offences

Second measles scare this summer at YVR

An infected traveller flew out of Vancouver’s airport three times

Judge OKs Weinstein suit, cites casting couch’s history

Actress Kadian Noble can sue disgraced Hollywood mogul for violating sex trafficking laws

Employers to raise salaries 2.6% on average next year: report

Firm points to factors such possibility of more trade protectionism, rising interest rates

PM Trudeau and federal ministers to meet on Vancouver Island

Cabinet retreat will be held in Nanaimo from Aug. 21-23

Evacuation alert lifted for 57 properties in Houseman Road area

The Houseman wildfire is now considered being held and is 100 per cent contained

B.C. school’s pledge to ban sex outside of heterosexual marriage now optional

Community convenant of Langley’s Trinity Western University has been centre of rights debate

48 sockeye, harbour seal seized from poachers caught on B.C. river

Charges pending after two poachers arrested for salmon fishing at night

Most Read