"Many of us at Facebook are parents, and naturally we're thinking about technology's role in the lives of children and families", Antigone Davis, Facebook's Public Policy Director and Global Head of Safety, wrote in an article in Facebook's Newsroom addressing the new Messenger app.
Facebook is launching a messaging app for children to chat with their parents and with friends approved by their parents. In October, it bought TBH - short for "to be honest" - an app that lets friends create polls about each other's best features.
Facebook says the Messenger Kids project was developed while working closely with child development experts with consideration for questions like "is there a "right age" to introduce kids to the digital world?"
To ensure that the app does not meddle in any controversy, consent of a parent is important before registering for the app or adding new contacts.
The app is initially available only on Apple's iOS devices, and will eventually be rolled out to a wider audience.
Kids will be able to send photos, videos or other messages to relatives or other contacts accessible through the primary Messenger app, and vice versa. There are no advertisements or in-app purchases in the app, and Facebook says it can detect certain types of abusive content and prevent it from appearing in Messenger Kids. However, several reports have surfaced showing inappropriate videos streaming through to kids.
Dr. Lewis Bernstein, former executive vice president of Education, Research and Outreach for the Sesame Workshop, compares the development of Messenger Kids over the last 18 months to those early years of developing "Sesame Street", the long-running, iconic show that now airs on HBO and re-airs on PBS. But first, kids must get a parental approval. The app has also been designed with privacy laws like the Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act in mind. Facebook plans to release Android and Amazon versions next year. "A child does not have the cognitive maturity or impulse control to properly manage their time and use on digital platforms", Hempe said.
Facebook said it consulted with 1200 parents plus online security and child development specialists, including the National Parent-Teacher Association, the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, Connect Safely, Center on Media and Child Health, and Sesame Workshop.
Sensing it could face criticism for developing a product that would help convert kids to regular Facebook users after they turn thirteen, Facebook cleverly prepared a defense in advance, notes The Verge.
At the same time, Facebook is promising not to sell ads into the Messenger Kids stream nor to automatically move the kids onto Facebook when they are eligible. Facebook won't migrate kids over to its "adult" apps when children reach that age, but it's easy to see that happening on its own.