Facebook has launched an early preview of Messenger Kids, an direct messaging app inviting children as young as six to sign up.
The app is only available in the US, and only on iPhone or iPad, but Facebook say they’re planning a wide release to Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store in the coming months.
It’s a marked departure for Facebook which has been insisting for years that the minimum age to set up a social media account is 13.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that primary school age children already have their own Facebook accounts.
How Messenger Kids works
- Parents download the app onto their child’s iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Then they authenticate the app using their own Facebook username and password. Facebook say that parents should create their children’s accounts and then hand the phone or tablet back to let them start chatting
- Kids can set up group chats with up to three friends using all the face-modifying fun they’re used to with Snapchat, including funny masks and overlays
- Parents will control contacts, and kids can’t add contacts their parents don’t approve
- Facebook promise there will be no adverts in Messenger Kids, and that children’s personal data will not be collected
Should we be concerned?
There are concerns, of course. Suggesting parents are more digitally savvy than their children is becoming a greater stretch of credibility.
While no child will be able to access the app without their parent’s username or password, it’s really not inconceivable that they either already know these details – or will find out – and get access to Messenger Kids with or without mum or dad’s approval.
The UK government’s Public Accounts Committee suggested this week that younger people are now more likely than the elderly to fall victim to online fraud.
This is because ‘digital natives’, or young children who have grown up with the internet, have a much more open and risky approach to sharing personal information online.
According to children’s charity the NSPCC, 48% of the young people it asked were worried about Facebook and its standard Messenger app.
Their concerns range from seeing disturbing or upsetting videos, seeing adverts or pop-ups that were violent, political, sexual or otherwise inappropriate, to the general feeling that they had lack of privacy and strangers could view their profile, add them, or find them online.
Funny videos and sharable memes make up such a large proportion of kids’s experience online, as well as talking to their friends and sharing pictures and videos.
Facebook Messenger Kids is at least an acceptance from the social media giant that younger children already use Facebook in vast numbers.
It’s not available in the UK yet, but it will come.