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New Facebook Messenger app targets 6- to 12-year-olds

Kids ages 6 to 12 now have their own Messenger app called Messenger Kids, Facebook announced Monday. The app works on Apple iPhones and iPads, with an Android app soon to follow.

Why are they doing this?

Millions of parents use Messenger and they requested a “controllable” app that allows them to message and hold video chats with their children, according to a Facebook announcement. Messenger Kids also features interactive masks, reactions, and sound effects designed to help make family chatting more fun.

Protections for child safety and privacy were built into the app, Facebook says. Only parents can approve other users to chat with their children, the app website states.

How does it work?

Kids must be signed up through a parent’s Facebook account. Under Facebook policy and federal child privacy laws, children under age 13 cannot have their own accounts.

After the Messenger Kids sign-up is authenticated, parents can create their child’s “mini-profile,”complete with name and photo.

Although parents sign up their children, they cannot secretly spy on them. Chats are not visible to parents unless they view them on their child’s phone screen. In addition, parents are notified if their child posts objectionable content, but they cannot see the actual content, according to Facebook.

Parents can sign up their kids by visiting bit.ly/MessengerKids and downloading the app. Additional information about the app is available at messengerkids.com.

Are there any risks?

Messenger Kids is designed to keep pedophiles and other criminals from targeting kids, according to Facebook. For example, children using Messenger Kids are not searchable through the app or Facebook. Also, no location data is available .

Unfortunately, criminals have targeted teens on at least one popular chat messenger aimed at young people. Kik has a “huge child exploitation problem,” Forbes reported in August. The investigation found that some users were adults preying on teenagers by gathering or distributing inappropriate content. In one case, a 13-year-old girl met her killers on Kik.

Kik made a statement that it cooperates with law enforcement and takes safety very seriously. The statement came in response to a CBS News investigation on “48 Hours,” called “Killer App.”

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