Facebook announced Monday that it has begun the American rollout of its new Messenger Kids app. It’s designed to let tweens go online and talk to people without having to deal with all the horrors of, well, going online and talking to people.
While the app offers a whole suite of parental controls designed to keep kids out of trouble and away from danger, there’s a more fundamental safety measure Facebook provides: The Messenger Kids app doesn’t require kids to have a Facebook account.
That doesn’t exactly mean Messenger is now bigger than Facebook, of course, but it does mean the app’s reach now extends beyond the strict boundaries of the social media behemoth.
Here’s how it works, per Facebook’s announcement: Parents download the app onto their child’s device, which for now is just limited to Apple’s iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. They then sign their child in using their own Facebook account, which gives the child access to Messenger Kids but not their parents’ actual account. At no point is the youngster ever actually using Facebook itself.
Once that’s all done, it’s up to the parents to decide who their child can and cannot talk to. Those can be other kids who are exclusively on Messenger Kids or adults with Facebook accounts who connect using the standard messenger app.
Other than the strict control of who kids can and cannot talk to, Messenger Kids is designed to function just like the regular Messenger app. There are group chats as well as one-on-ones, and kids can send photos, videos, and text as well as start video chats. There’s also a full suite of emojis and sound effects, just like any self-respect chat app for adults.
Unlike Facebook proper, the company says Messenger Kids will feature no ads and no collection of kids’ data for future commercial use. That might be enough to make the app sound appealing to those older than 13, honestly — though nobody should be the adult signing up for a kids-only messenger app, obviously.
While plenty of young people have been introduced to the wilds of the internet through chat apps — depending on your age, there’s a good chance you’re thinking of anything from AOL Instant Messenger to Snapchat right now — Messenger Kids could be the first kid-geared app that has big enough backing to really take off.
Until now, such apps have mostly been the domain of educational or specifically youth-focused companies, such as eduPad’s Monster Messenger. Facebook has rather bigger muscles to flex when it comes to people communicating with each other online.
While the app is only available in the United States and on the Apple Store for now, the plan is to bring it to Amazon and the Android app stores soon, as well as to roll it out in other countries.