Facebook aims new app for kids 6-12 years old

SEATTLE – Walking to grandma’s house for dinner are the evening plans for the Davis family, who stay in touch with one another by actually seeing each other in person. That may seem less common these days when social media is the go-to for connection.

"No screen time during the week, if he’s sick maybe, but we try to limit it as much as possible,” said Len Davis, a father to a six-year-old boy.

He says this week they did have more screen time than usual to research an upcoming trip.

"We’re going on a trip on Tuesday to Indonesia and we’ve been looking at videos on culture, food, landscape and monkeys we might see,” said Davis. He says the time he spends online with his son is designed to be an activity like anything else they may do together.

At age six, his little boy is exactly Facebook’s target for a new app called “Messenger Kids.”

The company says the app is full of features designed for kids to connect with people they love. Facebook says it’s safe because accounts must be set up by a parent and they approve a list of contacts children can connect with. Kids then are able to send photos, videos and text messages to those contacts.

“They’re not necessarily any safer for having been filtered through the parents,” said Linda Criddle, an internet security expert.

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Criddle says children will have fun with the app, but they’ll also experience bullying and exploitation that can happen even with people who are considered safe contacts.

"There is predatory behavior between children, not just bullying, but you get a 12-year-old and a 6-year-old or two 6-year-olds or other ages, there’s inappropriate behavior that needs monitoring at all times,” said Criddle.

She says children may not understand how risky answering questions like when mommy and daddy may be home or if they can go look into purses and wallets for certain information. She says even sending a photo that may seem innocent can be risky.

"What you and I see in a picture is 'oh, a cute kid.' What somebody else sees in the picture if they’re interested in seeing more, they’re looking at backgrounds, they’re looking at whether that child seems confident and is emotionally fit. Do they seem lonely, do they seem needy, do they seem willing to do things for money, are they willing to keep secrets,” said Criddle who explained how much information a photo can contain.

She says she’s not surprised more companies are targeting children online.

"The data they do collect and will leverage in the future is substantial,” said Criddle.

For the Davis family, their son’s data is not one that will be on Facebook.

Facebook says they will be collecting “limited” information on children who use the app.