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article image'Irresponsible' Facebook urged to scrap Messenger Kids

By James Walker     Jan 30, 2018 in Technology
Over 100 child health experts have signed a letter asking Facebook to withdraw its "Messenger Kids" app. The recently-launched app is aimed at children under the age of 13. The letter argues these children are too young to understand the dangers.
The open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is led by the Boston-based Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood. As reported by The Guardian, it has over 110 signatories who are calling on Facebook to be more responsible in its targeting of children. The letter explains pre-teens are "simply not ready" for social media.
Messenger Kids launched in December as a scaled-down version of Facebook's billion-user Messenger service. The company claims it provides a "safe" way for kids to chat online. Facebook's also stressed it doesn't collect information from children or display adverts within the app.
However, critics see Facebook as avoiding the wider issue. Many child health experts are concerned Facebook's using Messenger Kids as a way to increase its chances of convincing children to use its main platform. The app was widely criticised by child safety experts and health leaders, with the UK health secretary Jeremy Hunt telling Facebook to "stay away from my kids."
Facebook Messenger Kids
Facebook Messenger Kids
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In their letter to Facebook, the group of assembled child health advocates state it is "particularly irresponsible" for Messenger Kids to launch at the current time. Concerns around child use of social media and digital devices have become topical recently. Earlier this month, some prominent Apple investors urged the company to investigate how devices affect the development of children.
"Younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts," said the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. "They are not old enough to navigate the complexities of online relationships, which often lead to misunderstandings and conflicts even among more mature users. They also do not have a fully developed understanding of privacy, including what's appropriate to share with others and who has access to their conversations, pictures, and videos."
Although access to apps can be restricted, in practice there's little to prevent children with mobile devices from creating social media profiles. The letter argues that Messenger Kids is likely to be the first platform children encounter, owing to Facebook's massive market reach.
According to app analytics firm App Annie, Messenger Kids has been downloaded around 80,000 times so far. That figure may grow as more children sign up and start encouraging their friends to join the service too.
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