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What is Messenger Kids?

Audrey Conklin

Messenger Kids is a messaging and video-call app for children by Facebook, similar to its Messenger but with more protections.

The app, which was created in 2017 for children under 13 who cannot have Facebook accounts in accordance with the company's policies, features parental controls. The controls let parents customize the app for their children, including the ability to edit contact lists and receive notifications when their children block or report another user.

"Messenger Kids is a free video calling and messaging app for smartphones and tablets. Parents manage the contact list, and kids control the fun. Keep in touch with close friends and family with fun-filled features like filters and stickers," Facebook's website reads.

The app represents an alternative to texting so kids can keep up with each other home without having to use a phone, and it became available in more than 70 countries in April as children across the globe were sent home from school amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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Messenger Kids also includes features like kid-friendly filters, reactions, sound effects, GIFs, emojis and drawing tools; the app does not show ads to children, and it is impossible for kids to make in-app purchases.

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To set up a Messenger Kids account, parents must first download the app, authenticate children's devices using their own Facebook login information, set up profiles for children and add contacts.

Messenger Kids was created in collaboration with thousands of parents and more than a dozen "expert advisors in the areas of child development, online safety and children’s media and technology who’ve helped inform our approach to building our first app for kids," a 2017 press release reads.

But the app is not without its concerns.

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Facebook paid a $5 million fine to the Federal Trade Commission and create more privacy protections for Messenger Kids in July over privacy concerns. The FTC pointed out a flaw in the app that allowed some kids join without parental permission; the flaw has since been remedied.

The tech giant also came under fire in 2018 for violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, because it collected kids' personal information without parental consent. The company responded by saying it does not collect information for ad purposes.

Facebook collects information such as children's names, usernames, passwords, and the messages they share between each other on the app to enhance users' experience and user privacy, "including to help verify accounts and activity, and to look into suspicious activity or violations of our terms or policies," the company says on its website.

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