Facebook is targeted kids as young as 6 with a new messaging app introduced on Monday - which some critics worry will be a slippery slope for Mark Zuckerberg's two-billion strong operation.
Parents of children that use the new Facebook Messenger for kids app have the ability to select who that child can keep in contact with. Kids can only chat with people who are Facebook friends with their parents, meaning the parent must be friends with the other parents. The app, which does not require a phone number for making an account, rules out the possibility of anyone outside the contact list from connecting with the kid. It's completely independent of the flagship Facebook and Messenger apps, and is compliant with the Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act. Despite US federal law prohibiting companies from collecting personal information on those under 13 years old without parental consent, millions are already on Facebook, with or without their parents' permission, says Stephen Balkam, chief executive of the nonprofit Family Online Safety Institute.
All in all, it sounds like this will be a good app to use if you want to allow your children to communicate with friends and family from their smart device without exposing them to the whole of Facebook.
The Messenger Kids is created to provide kids with video and text chatting, along with some amusing masks and filters, similar to the ones on the Snapchat app. Children can't add contacts without their parents' approval first, and should one of those contacts become troublesome, parents can block them directly. It will be soon available for Android and Amazon Kindle devices. Last month, for example, Google announced an update to the YouTube Kids app, one that gives parents more tools to customize the app with individual profiles suited to specific age groups and unique passcodes for each child in a family. She said: "The risk of exposure to things [children] were not developmentally prepared for is huge".
But text-based conversations are also possible, just like the regular Messenger app. Features like emoji, GIFs, stickers, selfie frames and even AR experiences are available inside the app.
Here's a step-by-step from Facebook on how to make that happen. In order to befriend another child in Messenger Kids, a parent must also be friends with that child's parent on Facebook.
"I think at some point, we need to be realistic that social media isn't going away", Fountas said. "A child does not have the cognitive maturity or impulse control to properly manage their time and use on digital platforms", Hempe said. Facebook also said it will not automatically move users to the regular Messenger or Facebook when they get old enough, though the company may provide them the option to move contacts to Messenger down the line.
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