FACEBOOK has launched Messenger Kids in the Philippines, an app that allows children six to 12 years old to use video chat and messaging features in a parent-controlled environment, to provide children a safer avenue to communicate with their peers during the pandemic.

“It is essentially designed for kids to connect with their friends and family in a more controlled and parent-supervised environment,” Amber Hawkes, head of safety for APAC in Facebook, said during a digital conference on Sept. 2.

The app was initially rolled out in the US in 2017 and currently has 7 million users globally.

Ms. Hawkes noted that since the pandemic happened and lockdown measures were imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019), they have seen a “particularly fast uptake” as the app is now being rolled out globally this year.

“Children and parents are really finding it of great use to help them stay in touch at this time,” she explained.

Messenger Kids allows children to use Messenger features, including video chats and messaging, but does not create an actual Facebook account for the child as Facebook regulations only allow children aged 13 and up to register for an account.

And since kids aged 12 and below cannot set up a Facebook account, Messenger Kids can only be used by a child once the app — downloaded on the child’s device — has been authenticated using their parent’s Facebook account. Parents also get to control which features their child can have access to and can also manage their child’s contact list. The app also does not have ads nor in-app purchases.

“There are more controls for parents in this app than there are on any of our other products,” Ms. Hawkes said.

Asked why it took three years before the app was rolled out globally, Ms. Hawkes said the time provided them the opportunity to “adapt the product and to make sure that we had all the features in place.”

To create the app, Facebook said they have been working with a team of experts in “online safety, child development, and media” and has consulted child safety advocates and educators to “ensure that the Messenger Kids app balances parental control with features that help kids learn how to connect responsibly online,” according to a release.

Facebook Messenger Kids is now available for download via the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. — Zsarlene B. Chua