With the ACCC already breathing down its neck, Facebook has come out with its newest ploy – Messenger Kids.
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.
Instead, children can make -- and only with parental approval -- a Messenger Kids account.
Parental control doesn’t end at the inception of the account; contacts can only be added if mum, dad or the relevant guardian say so.
“More fun for kids, more control for parents,” is the slogan Facebook is pushing for the app, currently only available in the United States.
Facebook explains that with digital technologies and social media inundating the modern family, Messenger Kids is a safe way to introduce children to the online world.
“After talking to thousands of parents, associations like National PTA, and parenting experts in the US, we found that there’s a need for a messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want,” said Facebook Product Management Director, Loren Cheng.
“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.”
The company has stated that there will be no ads on Messenger Kids and that children’s data will not be used for ads.
Facebook has a minimum age requirement of 13, enforced by the American Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, however tech-savvy pre-teens have already shown this to be easily bypassed.
For Facebook, Messenger Kids exists as a kind of loophole to its own protocols -- giving kids a taste for the service without actually signing them up.
The creation of Messenger Kids is not an isolated initiative, rather it comes as part of a conscious push from the social media megaforce to increase its presence amongst youths.
It has been reported that Facebook now has a little-known “Youth Team” of about 100 staff working specifically on engaging with the younger market, as it continues to compete with the likes of Snapchat and Instagram for the teen market.
Public Policy Director and Global Head of Safety at Facebook, Antigone Davis, thinks Facebook can help parents guide their children through the online world.
“Children today are online earlier and earlier,” she said in a statement.
“They use family-shared devices — and many, as young as six or seven years old, even have their own.
“While kids have more ways than ever to learn and benefit from online experiences, three out of four parents say they worry about their kids’ online safety and want more control.”
Davis cited research from consultancy firm Dubit that found 93% of 6-12 year olds in the US now have access to a tablet or smartphone, while 66% own a device.
With the age of digital literacy continually decreasing, Davis said that she hoped Facebook could safely introduce the next generation to the online world.
“We believe that it’s possible to give kids a fun experience that provides more peace of mind for parents, too.”