Facebook unveils a messaging app for kids as young as 6

With no ads or data tracking and heightened privacy and security measures, this new app lets your kids talk and text safely without you having to stress.

Photo: iStockphoto

My eight-year-old sees me on social media all the time, but I’ve made it clear that there’s nothing on sites like Facebook that she can really do (besides look over my shoulder to watch funny cat videos). She’s been champing at the bit to get a taste of that sweet, sweet social media life—fun with filters, texting stickers and emojis and other nonsense to friends—but I remain resolute that she won’t have her own account on any social media until at the very least, the minimum age, which is 13. But today Facebook announced something it’s possible we both might like—and that might bridge the gap . The new app is called Messenger Kids, and it launches today in the US. The standalone, ad-free app will allow kids who want to text, send photos and video chat with approved contacts, something that that far-flung family and friends will certainly appreciate this holiday season—and well beyond.

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Parents can download the app onto their child’s phone or tablet, create a profile for them, and then OK certain family and friends from the main Messenger app. In essence, it will work much in the same way that you set up a play-date with a young child’s pal—both parents have to be okay with the arrangement. No one you have not pre-approved will be able to contact your child. No phone number or separate account is needed. And there will be no in-app purchases available.

For parents with lingering security concerns about the web giant involving younger users, Facebook notes that it has taken great pains to thwart any tech-trouble. Special proactive detection safety filters prevent kids from sharing pics that contain nudity or violence, and it will have a dedicated support team to respond to any flagged content that does slip through. A curated list age-appropriate GIFs, filters, masks and stickers will also be available for kids to sprinkle around.

As an added measure of security and privacy protection, Facebook states that no data from Messenger Kids will be fed to the main social network, nor will their information automatically transfer to other Facebook products when they turn 13, the company said. What’s more, Facebook also promises it won’t use data from Messenger Kids for Facebook ads later on.

This new app is an interesting workaround to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a US law that requires companies targeting kids under 13 to make sure they take great pains to guard their safety and security. While most companies have just decided not to allow kids under 13 to have accounts, Facebook sees this parent-moderated model is a way to have the best of both worlds.

Not everyone is cheering—at least not quite so quickly. A statement from Common Sense Media’s founder and CEO, James P. Steyer, says that while the new app is ad-free and appears to put parents in control, “Why should parents trust that Facebook is acting in the best interest of kids?” Common Sense Media—a non-profit organization in California that helps families make smart media choices—urges Facebook to make its policies “loud and clear—will the product remain ad-free? What data are they collecting and exactly how are they using it? Will they ever erase the group chats that kids are having? We encourage Facebook to clarify their policies from the start so that it is perfectly clear what parents are signing up for,” says Steyer.

Messenger Kids is available in the US starting today on iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch. (Android and Kindle versions will be coming soon—same goes for a Canadian version, presumably, although the company hasn’t said as much.) For more information, visit MessengerKids.com.

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