Facebook Launches Chat For Kids - But is it Safe?

John Lister's picture

Facebook has created a special version of its Messenger tool for users aged under 13. Those are kids that are too young to use the main Facebook site (officially, at least).

The core functions of Messenger Kids will be the same as the main Messenger app: users can exchange written messages in real time, or carry out video calls. There'll also be a range of "comedic" filters and effects to overlay on the video.

One difference is that there will be no form of advertising whatsoever. There will also be some automated moderation tools that block users from sharing abusive content.

Parents Must Approve Friendships

The biggest difference is that kids can't simply sign up or talk to anyone online.

Every Messenger Kids user account will be created by a parent who already has a Facebook account. Once the account is running, the kids will only be able to exchange messages and make calls to people they have added as a friend. However, kids will only be able to add one another as friends if their respective parents are not only already friends with one another on Facebook, but both agree to the kids making the connection. (Source: recode.net)

Not surprisingly, the move has been met with some cynicism. One argument against it is that, no matter how well Facebook tries to protect the service, there's a risk it could be breached by trolls or hackers.

Another argument is that Facebook's motivations might not be totally pure. One possibility is that the app is designed to get children used to the Facebook ecosystem and even be ready to have their Messenger Kids app ready to convert to a full Facebook account as soon as they turn 13. Facebook has said it does not have a "migration plan" to move users from Messenger Kids to the standard Messenger.

Tool Complies With Kids Online Law

Letting under 13s use the tool, unlike Facebook itself that is only for teens and older, is legally significant. That puts it under the jurisdiction of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, a law that restricts sites being able to collect personal information about under-13s, puts limits on advertising if pre-teens are on the site, and requires parental consent before those kids can post some personal details online.

That's the reason many websites have a blanket ban on under-13s using the site at all, albeit a ban that is enforced with varying levels of severity. Facebook has designed Messenger Kids to fully comply with the Act. (Source: time.com)

What's Your Opinion?

Is it a smart idea for Facebook to offer a chat service for kids? Do their safeguards sound adequate? Would you be happy for your kids or grandkids to use the service?

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Dennis Faas's picture

Obviously there is a reason Facebook wants kids to use their app and I'm not convinced it's "not" to migrate them - or at least, turn them into addicts by the time they are 13. It's almost like tobacco companies giving out free cigarettes to kids in third world countries. Sure it's free, but it's also going to get them addicted quick and make them life-long users in the process.

As for whether or not the site is going to be hacked - only time will tell. The biggest concern for me when I read the headline was that Facebook chat for under 13s is simply going to be "pedophile heaven". That said, the safeguards that are in place seem to be strong. The only way I can see it backfiring is if the site did get hacked and non-genuine user accounts were created in the process - or if someone found a way to get around the safeguards, of course.