How safe is Facebook's new messenger app for kids?

Messenger Kids App ParentalControls

How safe is Facebook's new messenger app for kids?

Parenting

How safe is Facebook's new messenger app for kids?

Facebook unveiled a new version of Messenger designed for kids.

The app is designed as a safe space for boys and girls that looks and operates like the normal Facebook Messenger and is compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act, according to Facebook.

COPPA mandates that social-media companies cannot collect, use or disclose photo, video or audio content from children without verifiable parental consent.

But the Messenger Kids app introduced on Monday has already sparked arguments among parents and internet privacy experts.

How it works

Messenger Kids App ParentalControls

Credit: Facebook

Kids download the messenger app through the Apple app store and activate their accounts by linking them to a parent’s personal Facebook account. That parent can then view and approve or block new contacts, and kids can text and have live video chats with those people. Kids also can doodle on photos and add fun filters to send one another.

Other features:

  • Both parents and kids can report users for inappropriate behavior.
  • All content on the (for now) ad-free app, including images, stickers, emojis and GIFS, have been screened to assure age-appropriateness.
  • Kids can’t delete messages, giving parents the ability to monitor what their kids send and receive through the app.

The app is on limited release, currently available only in the U.S. on iOS.

Privacy concerns

Messenger Kids Facebook app

Credit: Facebook

Given the recent conflicts with YouTube’s kids app and the inappropriate content making its way through those filters, parents are certainly justified in their hesitations toward this new app.

Facebook has openly stated in its privacy policy that Messenger Kids will collect data from the child users. And parents should certainly read it by clicking here to ensure they’re OK with the information being taken. 

Facebook said it will alert parents 30 days in advance if it chooses to alter its privacy policy.

Groups like Common Sense Media, a non-profit children’s media ratings and advocacy group, say this could be a problem. Other parents have voiced their concerns as well:

“What data are they collecting and exactly how are they using it? Will parents get ads based on the service? Will they ever erase the group chats that kids are having?  These are simple questions that parents need answers to before they sign their kids up. We encourage Facebook to clarify their policies from the start so that it is perfectly clear what parents are signing up for.”

Facebook says it will collect information on:

  • How your kids use the app, as in what features they use and how often they use it.
  • The explicit conversations being had between kids, including text, video and audio messages.
  • Information about the device your child uses and your IP address, which identifies the location of the device.

Facebook also says it can share this information with third-party companies to help the company improve the service. The policy states that those companies must comply with the confidentiality rules set in place.

The privacy policy does not state an age requirement or age cap to the cap.

For more pressing questions, parents can also visit Facebook’s blog post, “Hard Questions: So Your Kids Are Online, But Will They Be Alright?

Screen time, creep time

Another argument is that this is just one more way to introduce younger kids to the growing invasion of screen-time creep. The onus ultimately falls on parents to regulate a child’s screen time. But one more app making its way into pre-teen children’s lives doesn’t help. Matt Quirion, 39, of Washington, whose three children are between the ages of 3 and 9, told the New York Times:

“I’m an avid social media user, but I don’t feel my kids need more social interaction. They need their personal time to process all the social interaction and learn to grow into mature people.”

This Twitter user, and — ahem — obvious social media user himself, put it more bluntly:

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