Facebook is now targeting a previously untapped market – kids. The social media network announced this week that it will unveil a new app called Messenger Kids designed for children ages six to twelve, a range in which research has shown the majority already has access to tablets and smartphones. The kids’ version will allow minors to chat with friends, make video calls with kid-friendly filters and send GIFs.
Facebook has claimed the proper safeguards were put in place as it designed the app, well before the rollout. Parents will still need to set up the accounts, too, which provides for an additional level of security. Parents need to be friends with the parents of anyone who the kids would like to chat with on Facebook. There will be no search feature, as there is in the adult version, for safety and security reasons, and kids will not be allowed to access their parents Facebook pages.
“Safety is absolutely the most important concern [and] being able to [know] who they’re using the device with,” Loredana Crisan, Facebook Messenger’s product design director, said. “The ability to connect with only approved contacts is very important for that age range.” The company reportedly worked with no less than 250 online safety organizations when developing the app.
The company claims it will collect limited data about its users who are minors and there will be no feature ads in the sidebars. Tools for reporting and flagging suspicious content and users will be available. Facebook believes the development of Messenger Kids will allow parents to have more control and feel more secure in letting their children access social media.
Not surprisingly, not everyone is a fan of the company’s decision. “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].”
She continued, “As a parent, I would not be interested in a messaging product for my kids. Do children really need that yet? You can get a lot of those modalities elsewhere.”
In 2013, Snapchat attempted to launch a version of its disappearing photo platform designed for kids under 13 called SnapKidz, but it has since been discontinued. “These things only work if everyone else is on it as well,” said Stephen Balkam, founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute and a member of Facebook’s Advisory Committee. “It is such a crowded marketplace [for social media apps].” Balkam added, “You never know, until you put it out there, how it’s going to be used and what unintended consequences there might be from what they created. But from what I’ve seen [from Facebook], it does look like an incredibly thoughtful approach.”
The preview of Messenger Kids has already been employed on iOS in the U.S. and the official launch is scheduled for the end of the year. Android and Kindle will also be included in the near future.