Facebook unveils Messenger app for kids

Facebook targets 6- to 12-year-old demographic with new Messenger app

Facebook previews Messenger Kids, new messaging and video chat for children

A screenshot for the Facebook Messenger kids app.

Setting up the app requires an adult with a Facebook account, who can set up the child's profile and the initial list of friends and family members the child will be allowed to connect with on Messenger.

If your kids are going to message friends and family, wouldn't you rather have them do it safely and securely? The narrowed app was designed after consultation with hundreds of parents and several children's advocates, such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Facebook said.

Now the app is only available for iOS, although Android support is expected.

Facebook says Messenger Kids does not have ads or in-app purchases, and none of the information about the children will be used for ads.

No ads means that Facebook will collect "little data" since it won't be doing targeted advertising towards kids on Messenger Kids.

Messenger Kids offers an opportunity to introduce children to the wider Facebook ecosystem, fending off advances from rivals targeting children and teenagers, while locking parents and family into the social network to communicate with their children. However, several reports have surfaced showing inappropriate videos streaming through to kids.

All told, Messenger Kids could be a helpful tool for parents to stay in touch with their kids. "A website operator must include in a privacy policy, when and how to seek verifiable consent form a parent and what responsibilities an operator has to protect children's privacy and safety online".

Dr. Lewis Bernstein, former executive vice president of Education, Research and Outreach for the Sesame Workshop, compares the development of Messenger Kids over the last 18 months to those early years of developing "Sesame Street", the long-running, iconic show that now airs on HBO and re-airs on PBS. Facebook says it has inserted special proactive detection safety filters to prevent kids from sharing sexual content, nudity or violence. Children can't add contacts without their parents' approval first, and should one of those contacts become troublesome, parents can block them directly. The app is launching for iPhone immediately, but will eventually come to Android and Amazon Fire devices.

Major tech firms have recently released more products that allow children to engage within the limits of the privacy law - and that reach more of the country's approximately 50 million children under the age of 13 in the process. The company has no plans to release a similar kids-only platform for its other main social network, Instagram. The social networking giant also made it clear that Messenger Kids accounts would not transition into a usual Facebook account when a child turns 13.

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