Facebook launches Messenger Kids app - but parents vet chat contacts

Facebook has a team of around 100 employees building products for teens and kids

The app is launching for iPhone immediately, but will eventually come to Android and Amazon Fire devices.

At the same time, Facebook is promising not to sell ads into the Messenger Kids stream nor to automatically move the kids onto Facebook when they are eligible.

The social network giant said children between the ages of 6 and 11 are most likely to gravitate toward the standalone app, raising concerns about its safety in the hands of such youngsters.

Messenger Kids is launching in preview today for iPhone and iPad users in the us and will be targeting 6 to 13-year-olds with a child-friendly alternative to the main Messenger app. Parents have to use their own Facebook credentials to authenticate a device for use with the new Messenger Kids app, and parents have full and final say over who the kid is able to connect with through Messenger. More than 2 billion people use Facebook every month, not counting subsidiary apps such as Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram.

"[Messenger Kids] doesn't overcome the issues of screen time and screen use and all the other issues that go with technology and kids", Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, told The Post. "It's actually really great for kids to see how grownups communicate effectively online and you can have the chance to model it for them". Google in March introduced Family Link, which allows parents to set up kid-friendly Google accounts for children under 13.

Facebook won't monetize Messenger Kids app. The reasoning behind this, says Facebook, is to avoid forcing parents and other relatives to download an extra app. 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. Facebook says the app won't display ads. The new app gives it a chance to win brand loyalty from younger children at a time when it faces competition for teenagers from other social media platforms such as Snapchat.

Kristelle Lavallee, a children's psychology expert who advised Facebook on designing the service, called it a "useful tool" but also noted, "The risk of exposure to things they were not developmentally prepared for is huge".

"I think it's very important that parents know who their kids are talking to". It's a restrictive system, but one that highlights how tricky it is to give children access to social media, and particularly an app that's operated by one of the world's largest (and most controversial) social media firms. Messenger Kids presents another way to tap into a subset of the younger demographic. The child does not have a Facebook account, which is prohibited for those under 13; instead the app operates as an extension of the parent's account.

But kids can't sign up on their own.

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