British minister tears into Facebook's new app for children: 'Stay away from my kids'

Ben Birchall PA Wire/PA ImagesJeremy Hunt.
  • Critics are attacking Facebook over its new messaging app aimed at children.
  • “Stay away from my children,” British health secretary Jeremy Hunt warned the social network.

Facebook is launching an app for children – and not everyone is happy about it.

British health secretary and Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt has added his voice to the chorus of critics attacking the social network for trying to attract ever-earlier users to its services, publicly telling the company: “Stay away from my kids.”

“Not sure this is the right direction at all Facebook told me they would come back with ideas to PREVENT underage use of their product, but instead they are actively targeting younger children,” the politician wrote in a tweet on Tuesday.

“Stay away from my kids please Facebook and act responsibly!”

Messenger Kids is an app aimed at users younger than 13, the minimum age at which people are allowed to sign up for a regular Facebook account. Parents have to approve all their children’s contacts, and they won’t be shown adverts.

It’s intended as a safe space for children to send messages – but its announcement has caused some disquiet.

“Facebook’s success has long derived from its willingness to find the limits of our comfort around sharing, and then push right past them,” The Verge’s Casey Newton wrote. “Viewed in that light, building a pipeline of 6-year-old users in the name of protecting them from child predators is part of a long tradition.”

British Prime minister Theresa May’s spokesperson was asked about Hunt’s remarks on Tuesday. They responded: “Jeremy Hunt leads for the government on this and he’s obviously concerned in relation to protecting children’s’ mental health on social media and that comment is in line with that.”

Reached for comment, a Facebook spokesperson defended the app. In a statement, they said: “The preview of Messenger Kids is only available in the US, on iOS, it is a completely separate app from Facebook. We created this app based on feedback from thousands of parents around the country through roundtables, focus groups, and discussions with many third-party experts. In these conversations, we heard that families want a safe way for kids to communicate with family and close friends with strong parental controls. “As children increasingly have access to tablets and smartphones at younger ages, parents shouldn’t have to choose between giving kids access to no internet and the whole internet. We know giving access to the online world is a parental choice and we wanted to design something that gives parents the peace of mind they want when it comes to that decision, and delivers a really fun experience for kids to connect with friends and family.”

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