Facebook targets pre-teens with chat app

Bulgaria Facebook Launches a Version of Messenger For Young Children

Rival platforms targeting youngsters, such as Snapchat, are also struggling to counter such threats, but typically, the golden rule for most parents is to keep their kids off social media apps and monitor their internet access.

Messenger Kids is being trialled in the United States as a standalone app for a smartphone or tablet that is controlled from a parent's Facebook account and does not create a main Facebook profile for young users.

The Messenger Kids app, aimed at kids ages 6-12, rolled out Monday on iOS in the U.S. An Android version is coming soon. Parents can then create a profile for the child as an extension of their own Facebook account.

It's important to note that kids under 13 are still not allowed to sign up for a Facebook account.

Reuters/Regis DuvignauFacebook's Messenger Kids allows for parent-controlled Messenger accounts for children.

When children open the Messenger Kids app, they'll see a color-customizable home screen with big tiles representing their existing chat threads and approved contacts, with their last message and the last time they were online.

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You can set your child up with a Messenger Kids account with four easy steps. Facebook is careful about the development of the app as it has the potential to be exploitative - it may be used as a gateway for predators and other entities that intend to cause the children harm. The device can then be handed over to your child so he or she can start chatting with the family and friends you approve. From there, kids can dive instantly into a video chat or text thread with their contacts. It is free to download and there are no in-app purchases. "Sometimes after 5 or 10 minutes it's really hard to have a sustained conversation with a 7-year-old", but kids can joke around with Grampa using the selfie filters when they run out of run-on stories to tell them. Amazon has also added kid-focused "skills" to its Echo smart speakers, which require a parent's permission to activate. Facebook actually manually selected a set of GIFs that kids can use rather than relying on a third-party startup to tag things well enough. A dedicated support team will work 24/7 to address any flagged issues. "But why should parents simply trust that Facebook is acting in the best interest of kids?" said Jim Steyer, executive director of Common Sense Media, in a statement.

Facebook's age restriction meant that it was never a place for kids. For years, major tech firms such as Facebook complied with COPPA by not allowing those under 13 to have accounts.

Those companies, in turn, must have their own privacy policies to protect children, the app's privacy policy said.

She cited research that shows some 93 percent of USA kids ages six to 12 have access to tablets or smartphones - and 66 percent have their own device, often using apps meant for teens and adults.

Facebook's approach may encourage companies to create safer, more limited and legally compliant services for kids, said Larry Magid, chief executive of the nonprofit ConnectSafely.org, one of many organizations Facebook briefed on the product ahead of its launch.

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