For the first time since its founding, Facebook is making an app for children under 13. Messenger Kids, as the app is called, offers children the ability to chat and video chat with friends and family members, while at the same time giving parents control over who they are talking to.
Facebook launched a preview of the app for iOS Monday, with plans to publish an Android version on Google’s and Amazon’s app stores in the coming months as well. This means that children will be able to eventually use it on Android phones as well as Amazon’s Fire tablets.
The app has to be authenticated from a parent’s Facebook account before its can be used, and parents have to approve every contact before it can be added to the app. After that, kids can do video calls, chat, and access make use of what Facebook described as “kid-appropriate and specially chosen GIFs, frames, stickers, masks and drawing tools.”
Facebook has long steered clear of audiences under 13 to comply with privacy and data collection regulations. The company said on Monday that the Messenger Kids app was designed to be compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act, which regulates data collection from children under 13.
For instance, children don’t have to supply an email address to use Messenger Kids, and Facebook also isn’t displaying any advertising to them — effectively sidestepping any potential data collection by or on behalf of advertisers.
Facebook isn’t the only company looking to cater to kids and their parents with services that feature additional safeguards. Amazon is offering families a service called Freetime that offers close monitoring of childrens’ activities on Amazon devices, and Google is offering parents the ability to limited the apps kids can install on their Android phones.
Still, some are taking issue with these companies targeting children at all. In fact, Facebook’s announcement led to a spirited debate on Twitter Monday, with some likening Facebook’s initiative to cigarette marketing targeting underage smokers, while others argued that it wasn’t realistic to expect that children wouldn’t use chat apps.