On Dec. 4, Facebook unveiled a new app for kids that makes chatting with long-distance relatives and friends a lot more accessible for children between 9 and 11 years old. The new app called Messenger Kids is exactly what it sounds like: a messaging service that lets kids message and video chat with each other so long as both sets of parents OK the contact beforehand. And it's not surprising that the news has caused some seriously raised eyebrows.
The tech giant published a press release explaining exactly what the new app can be used for: "We're rolling out a preview of Messenger Kids, a new app that makes it easier for kids to safely video chat and [text] message with family and friends when they can't be together in person. After talking to thousands of parents, associations like National PTA, and parenting experts in the US, we found that there's a need for a messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want," said Loren Cheng, a product management director at Facebook.
So how exactly does it work? A lot like the Facebook Messenger app for adults, but with parental controls. Children and their parents download the stand-alone app to their smartphone or tablet to use, but parents control every aspect of who their children talk to from their own Facebook account. In layman's terms, it means kids get all the perks of video chatting and parents get peace of mind knowing that they're only allowed to talk to preapproved contacts.
It's important to note that signing up for the app doesn't require your mini me to actually make a Facebook profile, so strangers can't look them up. They also don't need their own phone number, since it runs on WiFi. As a matter of fact, your kiddo won't even see any ads while using it because the developers at Facebook pledged Messenger Kids is an "ad-free experience," meaning they won't use their info to try to sell them anything (unlike the adult accounts, which are peppered with ads for things you may have considered buying at one point six months ago).
Young users can also take advantage of a few features that will no doubt inject your kiddo's chat with their grandma with a touch of silliness. Facebook is including "kid-appropriate masks, frames, stickers, and GIFs [to] spark conversation and laughter. With the feature-filled camera, kids can create fun videos and decorate photos to share moments with loved ones."
Although some parents are impressed with the lengths Facebook went to make the app as safe as possible, others are understandably expressing some concern in the review section of the app's page in the iTunes store. One user gave the product one star and commented: "Way too easy for children to sign up without parents' knowledge. They just have to setup a fake adult profile then give permission using this to sign up for this app. Kids are much smarter than you give them credit for. That also means [predators] can do the same process to try to hook up with unsuspecting kids. This app needs to be eliminated."
If you're interested in testing it out, Messenger Kids is currently available for Apple products in the US only.