The social FacebookAi??network on Monday announced a new standalone app called Messenger Kids. It targets children ages six to 12.
The new app lets kids text and video chat with their family and friends.
But because many kids don’t have phones — you need a phone number to create a regular Messenger account — Messenger Kids lets parents sign up their children using just the child’s first and last names.
It’s designed mostly for non-phone devices, like a tablet or iPod Touch. It’s only available in the US on Apple’s iOS for now, but it’s coming soon to Google Android and Amazon Kindle devices.
Facebook said it put safeguards in place to keep the platform safe and private.
Parents must set up a child’s Messenger Kids account and approve with whom they can communicate (parents must be friends on Facebook to do so). Kids will not be searchable within the app for privacy reasons.
Loredana Crisan, Facebook Messenger’s product design director, said “Safety is absolutely the most important concern [and]being able to [know]who they’re using the device with. The ability to connect with only approved contacts is very important for that age range.”
Children will not be able to access their parent’s Facebook account and won’t have their own account. Facebook’s policy still requires users to be at least 13 years old to sign up for the main site.
The company said it will collect “little data” about its young users and will not feature ads or in-app purchases. It will also include tools to report or flag inappropriate content and block users.
Facebook said it worked with a committee of about a dozen experts and more than 250 online safety organizations to develop the app. It also met with parents across the U.S. to hear the major concerns about their kids using technology.
Facebook argued putting communication in a place that can be monitored by parents allows kids to connect with friends and family online in a fun, but controlled way.
It’s also a part of Facebook’s larger strategy to grow its 2 billion user base.
But the app will likely draw some criticism.
“American parents are really protective of their young kids’ privacy and social interactions,” said Jenny Radesky, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan, C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. “There will probably be a bit of reaction that they’re too young and there’s a [general]lack of interest for [messaging apps].”
The young age requirement could also be a concern.
“As a parent, I would not be interested in a messaging product for my kids,” Radesky said. “Do children really need that yet? You can get a lot of those modalities elsewhere.”
She pointed to video-chatting services like Skype and FaceTime.
The preview of Messenger Kids will roll out on iOS in the U.S. on Monday and launch officially by the end of the year. It will come to Android and Kindle in the future.