The app—called Messenger Kids—looks and operates similarly to the normal Facebook Messenger. It includes features like group chatting, video or audio calls and even face filters like the ones used on Snapchat. But instead of being linked to the user’s Facebook account, they are linked to a parent’s account.
According to the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act, children under 13 years old are forbidden from having accounts on social media. However, according to Facebook this new app is compliant with COPPA and safe for children 12 years old and under.
The parent in control of the account can view the child’s contact list and and approve—or block—new contacts. Both the parents and kids can report other users for inappropriate behavior. The content, like GIFs and images, on the app have all been screened to make sure that they are all age-appropriate.
However the announcement has raised concerns over the safety for the app’s young users. Common Sense Media, an organization dedicated to helping families and children safely navigate media and technology, issued a statement saying that Messenger Kids can’t be trusted by parents until Facebook is able to answer several important questions for parents.
“A messenger app for kids under 13 that only parents can sign them up for sounds like a nice idea on its face, but without clear policies about data collection, what happens to the content children post, and plans for the future, it is impossible to fully trust the platform,” the company stated. “We appreciate that for now, the product is ad-free and appears designed to put parents in control. But why should parents simply trust that Facebook is acting in the best interest of kids?”
Common Sense Media would like for Facebook to address whether or not the app will remain ad-free or if parents will get ads based on the service, what data is being collected and how it is being used, and if Facebook will ever delete group chats in which kids are participating within the app.
“These are simple questions that parents need answers to before they sign their kids up. We encourage Facebook to clarify their policies from the start so that it is perfectly clear what parents are signing up for.”
A representative from Facebook confirmed to Working Mother that while some data will be collected from the app, it won’t be used to sell ads to the kids or parents connected to the kid’s account. The collected data will be used to do things like put most frequent contacts at the top of the contact list and finding new ways to improve the user experience. The only personal information required is the first and last name of the child using it.
The company also stressed that Messenger Kids' users will not be migrated to Facebook or Messenger once they turn 13 and are legally allowed to have accounts. Also, the messages within the app cannot be deleted, so parents will be able to check their kids’ devices to read them.
The app is currently on limited release and is only available on iOS in the United States. According to Facebook, it will soon be available on the Google Play Store and Amazon App Store within the next few months. For more information on Messenger Kids, you can visit the app’s new website.