Facebook targets pre-teens with chat app

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Today, parents are increasingly allowing their children to use tablets and smartphones, but often have questions and concerns about how their kids use them and which apps are appropriate. Rival platforms targeting youngsters, such as Snapchat, are also struggling to counter such threats, but typically, the golden rule for most parents is to keep their kids off social media apps and monitor their internet access. The move would mirror the actions of its parent company Facebook, which removed messaging from the core Facebook app in 2014 and replaced the feature with the standalone Facebook Messenger app. The current preview is limited to iOS users in the United States, but Facebook intends to launch the app for Amazon and Google Play sometime in the future.

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. Once their account is set up by a parent, kids can start a one-on-one or group video chat with parent-approved contacts.

Instead, children can make - and only with parental approval - a Messenger Kids account. This is by far the most clumsy part of Messenger Kids, and something Facebook might be able to improve with a way for Messenger Kids to let children perhaps photograph a QR code on their playmate's app to request that their parents connect.

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She cited research that shows some 93 percent of USA 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.

Kids still can't be found through Facebook search, which protects their privacy.

Messenger Kids was designed after consultation with hundreds of parents and several children's advocates, such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the social network said. Messenger Kids is interoperable with the main Messenger app, so adults don't actually have to download the Kids app. The device can then be handed over to your child so he or she can start chatting with the family and friends you approve. The app does not contain ads and is free of in-app purchases. Messenger Kids will also not feature any advertisements. A dedicated support team will work 24/7 to address any flagged issues.

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It's important to note that kids under 13 are still not allowed to sign up for a Facebook account.

One thing that might surprise some people is that there's no way for parents to secretly spy on what their kids are saying in their chats. "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. The exception is that if kids report a piece of objectionable content, their parents will be notified but still not shown the content in their own app.

"The reality is that kids are going to go use apps if they're under 13", he said. They'll still have to build a traditional Facebook account from scratch when they're ready.

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