Facebook Messenger comes to a primary school near you.
Facebook is launching a new version of Messenger, its independent messaging application, specifically for users under the age of 13, those who are too young to use Facebook due to age restrictions on the site.
The new app is called Messenger Kids, and Facebook is charging it as a way for pre-teens to communicate safely with their parents and friends. This is because children can not create a Messenger Kids account, or add any new contacts, without parental approval.
If a child wants to chat with a friend from school, for example, his father would have to be a Facebook friend with one of the other child's parents, and both parents would have to accept a request connection .
The goal is to provide children with a messaging application that is not linked to a phone number, and that will not generate messages from people the child does not know.
Of course, getting pre-teens on Messenger has another important benefit: it offers Facebook the opportunity to get ahead of the younger generation of Internet users before potential competitors. Facebook is losing some of its teenage users to other applications, such as Snapchat or Instagram; Fortunately, Facebook owns Instagram, which is one of the reasons why Facebook should like the idea of Messenger Kids. It is easy to imagine how a 10 year old child who uses Messenger Kids and creates a network of contacts in the service will eventually graduate in regular Messenger, and probably Facebook.
At a press conference with reporters to reveal the new product, Facebook did not talk much about that benefit. Instead, the company emphasized that it takes the security of Messenger Kids very seriously. In addition to needing a parent to create an account and add new contacts, children can not delete any messages, and parents are notified each time a child reports a message. (All reports are handled by humans, the company said.)
The hope is that this will help parents control problems related to bullying or abuse.
The company states that it spent the last six months talking with hundreds of parents in focus groups to understand the kind of concerns and needs they have when it comes to allowing their young children to communicate online.
"It is very difficult to maintain control over who [kids] communicate with, how they communicate, what tools are available to them," said David Marcus, director of Facebook Messenger. "This is what we are going to address and solve."
Still, Facebook's decision to create products specifically for tweens puts the company in a new and interesting sphere of responsibility. Ensuring that adults who use Facebook are safe from abuse or contact with unwanted strangers can be difficult. Doing that for children will certainly put Messenger under a new microscope.
Some other things you should know about the new application:
- Create a Messenger Kids account is not the same as creating a Facebook account. Facebook only requires a first and last name for a Messenger Kids account, and any other data collected from the account is saved separately from other Facebook user data, the company says.
- Messenger Kids accounts not automatically convert into Facebook accounts when children turn 13.
- Messenger Kids will not include any ads.
- Parents will not need to download an application separately. You can communicate with Messenger Kids users through your existing Messenger application.
- There will not be a search database for Messenger Kids users. Parents can only see Messenger Kids accounts connected with their own Facebook friends.
Messenger Kids is only available on iOS in the US. UU The company says that an Android and Kindle version of the application will arrive next year.