Facebook Messenger Kids – everything you need to know

Facebook's instant messaging app for children has caused a bit of controversy. Here's what you need to know about it...

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A whopping 90% of parents are concerned about the new Facebook messaging app for kids, according to a recent survey by YouGov.

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Facebook Messenger for kids has yet to launch in the UK – and there’s no planned release date at the time of writing – yet still over half of parents asked said they would ban their child from using it.

So, what exactly does the app do – and why’s everyone so worried about it? We break it down here…

What is Facebook Messenger Kids, exactly?

It’s basically the same as the free Facebook Messenger app we’re all pretty familiar with – but this one’s exclusively designed for children aged 6 – 12 to use.

(Facebook’s rules say if you’re under 13, you can’t sign up for the typical profiles so many of us have – so they’ve created this totally separate app to reach them.)

Primary schoolers will be able to make individual/group video calls and send text/pic messages, either on their smartphone or tablet. There’ll also be some fun features like interactive masks and GIFs to help jazz things up a bit.

The Facebook Messenger Kids app will also be able to communicate with your own Facebook Messenger app. Unlike the adult version, the app has some form of parental control.

As Facebook states on the app’s official site: “Kids can only connect with parent-approved contacts, which creates a more controlled environment.”

“Parents fully control the contact list and decide who can connect with their children. Messages don’t disappear and can’t be hidden in case parents would like to check in.”

The idea is that either mum or dad downloads the app on to the phone or tablet, and then sets everything up, too.

Is Facebook Messenger Kids available in the UK?

Currently, the app is not available in the UK. It is available in the US, on iOS and Android – so that includes iPhones, iPads, Android tablets and the Kindle Fire.

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What are the concerns about Facebook Messenger Kids?

The major concerns, we have to say, are general concerns we’re sure all of us have about our pre-teens and young teens on the internet.

A key worry is that an instant messaging app for pre-teens could easily become a hot-bed for dodgy grown-ups pretending to be your child’s young friend.

Children’s charity Barnado’s, in light of the YouGov survey, said they were “concerned it could leave children vulnerable to grooming and sexual exploitation”.

There’s also the worry that children could use the app to send explicit images or messages to each other, the worry that you need to use their full name to set them up on the app, and that they’ll be exposed to advertisers.

Finally, a group of 97 health experts teamed up to send a letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg, asking him to shut down the app for good.

Their major concern was that it would increase the amount of time little ones are spending online – which could “undermine healthy childhood development”.

The letter said, according to tech site Wired: “Raising children in our new digital age is difficult enough. We ask that you do not use Facebook’s enormous reach and influence to make it even harder.”

What Facebook’s doing to address the concerns

Well, there’s no official document tackling all of these various issues, but on the app’s website, there’s an FAQ section which does further detail which bits of the app can be controlled by mum and dad.

The FAQs also state: “Messenger Kids is an ad-free experience. The app is also free, and there are no in-app purchases.”

It also notes that – in terms of things like protecting data – they adhere to the US Federal Trade Commission’s COPPA rule (Children’s Online Privacy Protection).

When we get word of anything else, we’ll be sure to keep this piece updated.

Have your say

Does an app like this concern you – or do you think it’s good there’ll be a parent-controlled messaging app for little ones? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook

Images: Facebook

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