Tech titans ramp up tools for children

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wikipedia/CC BY

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – From smartphone messaging tailored for tikes to computers for classrooms, technology titans are weaving their way into childhoods to form lifelong bonds, raising hackles of advocacy groups.

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The debut this month in the US of a version of Messenger mobile application for children younger than 12 marked the first time leading online social network Facebook has stepped into the sensitive market.

California-based Facebook said Messenger Kids complies with regulations protecting children online, and offers more safeguards for youngsters.

Facebook said the new app, with no ads or in-app purchases, is aimed at 6- to 12-year-olds and does not allow children to connect with anyone their parent does not approve.

Messenger Kids is being rolled out for Apple iOS mobile devices in the US on a test basis as a standalone video chat and messaging app.

Product manager Loren Cheng said the social network leader is offering Messenger Kids because “there’s a need for a messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want.”

Groups which monitor social media gave mixed reviews to the Facebook effort.

“Ideally, young children should not really be subjected to this kind of environment,” said executive director Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy, a consumer protection group.

“(Messenger Kids) is the best we can do at the moment. The pressure on parents to let their children be on these services is so strong.”

Facebook, meanwhile, is motivated to increase the ranks of people using its offerings and get a new generation in the habit of using the social network.

John Simpson of the activist group Consumer Watchdog argued a need for academic studies into how the use of technology affects children.

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