Here’s something that is sure to cause some controversy among parents: Facebook is now offering Messenger Kids, a messaging app for kids ages six to 12.
Messenger Kids gives kids a new way to talk with their friends, make video calls, and share gifs, all of which Facebook says are family-friendly and age appropriate. For parents worried about this, Facebook says it has put many safeguards in place, ensuring their child’s safety and privacy.
“Safety is absolutely the most important concern and being able to know who they’re using the device with,” said Loredana Crisan, Facebook Messenger’s product design director. “The ability to connect with only approved contacts is very important for that age range.”
In order for kids to use the app, parents must be the ones to set it up through their Facebook account. Parents then choose who their kids communicate with. Most importantly, their kids’ names will never show up on search engines. Little data will be collected on the children’s activities, and tools will be included to block inappropriate content and unapproved users. There will be no ads or in-app purchases available. Once signed in, kids will only have access to their messages; they cannot view their parent’s Facebook account.
To ensure complete success, Facebook’s 100-person “kid-centered” team spent 18 months developing the app, consulting with parents, advocates, and childhood-development experts on their expectations and concerns. Yet there are still some who don’t think Facebook is genuine with its intent.
Josh Golin, executive director of Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, is worried the info collected will get into the wrong hands, as Facebook is sharing the info within the “family of Facebook” but isn’t mentioning those companies by name.
“It’s all that squishy language that we normally see in privacy policies,” says Golin. “It seems to give Facebook a lot of wiggle room to share this information.”
Messenger Kids is in preview for iOS users this week, and will become fully available by the end of the year. Android users can expect it sometime in the near future.