Facebook's new messaging app deepens debate over kids' social media use

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Davis named some reasons Facebook made a decision to create Messenger Kids and why they chose to create it right now.

"To give kids and parents a fun, safer solution, we built Messenger Kids, a standalone app that lives on kids' tablets or smartphones but can be controlled from a parent's Facebook account".

We've worked extensively with parents and families to shape Messenger Kids and we're looking forward to learning and listening as more children and families start to use the iOS preview.

The app, which specifically targets 6 to 12-year-olds, gives pre-teens access to a beta version of Facebook Messenger, without the need to create a live Facebook account.

"My concern is safety, getting friend requests from people you don't know, chatting with people you don't know, giving out information to strangers", one parent participant in the National PTA roundtable said. It will also not use data from Messenger Kids for Facebook ads.

The service essentially takes the main Instagram app's messaging features and packs them into a separate experience, which will seamlessly communicate with the main, feed-oriented app.

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Kids will not show up in Facebook search results, so if a kid wants to chat with a friend, the parent will have to work with the friend's parent to get them both approved.

Facebook hired a special team to develop kid-friendly creative tools, from fidget spinner and dinosaur AR masks to crayon-style stickers. "It's just like setting up a play date", Davis said. The app does not contain ads and is free of in-app purchases. "Sometimes after 5 or 10 minutes it's really hard to have a sustained conversation with a 7-year-old", but kids can joke around with Grampa using the selfie filters when they run out of run-on stories to tell them. Facebook actually manually selected a set of GIFs that kids can use rather than relying on a third-party startup to tag things well enough.

Several major tech firms have recently released products that allow younger children to use their services within the limits of the kids' privacy law - and reach more of the country's 48.8 million children under the age of 13 in the process.

She cited research that shows some 93 percent of US kids ages six to 12 have access to tablets or smartphones - and 66 percent have their own device, often using apps meant for teens and adults. Parents won't be able to spy on their kids' chats. Children can report bullying or any unwanted communication in the app.

In the past few years, WhatsApp has remained a relatively unchanged, bare-bones messaging app, while Messenger has become much more, transforming into a platform of its own: Bots, payment options, phone calls, and even games have now found a home in Messenger. "But why should parents simply trust that Facebook is acting in the best interest of kids?" said Jim Steyer, executive director of Common Sense Media, in a statement.

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