Monday, 16 July, 2018

Facebook 'Messenger Kids' Lets Under-13s Chat with Whom Parents Approve

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Ben Pena | 07 December, 2017, 22:52

It will allow children and adolescents to exchange messages and video calls without account registration.

The internet is riddled with threats, scams, child predators, and inappropriate content, which is why Facebook doesn't allow kids to sign up and use its platform. Unlike with its full social network, the data collection will be limited, Facebook said, and the children will need their parents' permission to use it.

Created to be compliant with the Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) which forbids children under the age of 13 from giving out their personal information without a parent's permission, every child account on Messenger Kids must be set up by a parent.

"More fun for kids, more control for parents", is the slogan Facebook is pushing for the app, now only available in the United States. There is no information on when the app will be released outside of the U.S. The law requires companies targeting children under 13 to take extra steps to safeguard privacy and security - particularly around advertising, as children may not understand what is and is not an ad. Google in March introduced "Family Link", which allowed parents to set up kid-friendly Google Accounts.

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Messenger Kids gives parents more control. Messenger Kids is interoperable with the main Messenger app, so adults don't actually have to download the Kids app. Messenger Kids is also created to be compliant with the Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA). So if a child wants to be able to chat with one of their classmates, their parent must first friend that kid's parent, and then will see the option to approve that adult's child as a contact for their own kid. After this, the device can be handed back to the child, and they can start chatting by using Messenger Kids. From there, kids can dive instantly into a video chat or text thread with their contacts. The app does not contain ads and is free of in-app purchases. Parents must approve all requests before people can connect with the child. Facebook has included a library of kid-appropriate and specially chosen GIFs, frames, stickers, masks, emojis, sound effects and drawing tools that kids can make use of while chatting with a parent-approved contact.

In addition to our research with thousands of parents, we've engaged with over a dozen expert advisors in the areas of child development, online safety and children's media and technology who've helped inform our approach to building our first app for kids. "The question becomes do we simply ban them and fight a losing fight?"

One thing that might surprise some people is that there's no way for parents to secretly spy on what their kids are saying in their chats. Instead, parents have to ask to look at their kids' screen, which Chung says is a more common behavior pattern.

"While we appreciate Facebook taking steps to protect this vulnerable population by including parental controls, establishing an ad-free environment, and restricting some data collection, we remain concerned about where sensitive information collected through this app could end up and for what objective it could be used", they wrote.

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