Is Facebook Messenger Safe For Kids?

Is Facebook Messenger Safe For Kids?

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Facebook messenger as a standalone app has been available over a year, but Facebook are now forcing mobile Facebook users to use the standalone app rather than messaging within the mobile Facebook app. Facebook has already phased out messaging through the mobile Facebook app, you now get a prompt to download the New 9.1 Facebook Messaging app when trying to message friends the the mobile Facebook app.

How Does It Work?

You need a Facebook Profile to enable the Facebook Messenger app, if you try to set up Facebook Messenger without linking to a Facebook profile you will be prompted to create a Facebook account. The new version of the messaging app allows users to message their Facebook friends with photos, videos, colourful “stickers” and via voice message. You can also message other Facebook users who are not your normal Facebook “Friends” via their phone number, as long as they also have Facebook Messenger downloaded. You can send messages to either one friend or a group of friends.

Is Facebook Messenger Safe For Children?

At the moment Facebook Messenger is rated at 4+ on the iTunes store.  This seems a little odd as Facebook is rated 13+, but then other messaging apps like What’sApp, another app owned by Facebook, are also rated 4+ on iTunes. Stranger still, the WhatsApp Terms Of Service rules that you have to be over 16yrs of age to use What’sApp.

Things Parents Need To Watch Out For On Facebook Messenger:

Location Services

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Facebook Messenger uses location services, meaning that the messaging app can inform the person who receives a message where the user was located when they sent their message. Not a great idea for children’s privacy.  It is therefor a good idea to turn off location services for this app in the privacy settings of your phone, to protect your child from divulging their location.

Syncing Contacts and Address Books

If you synchronise your phone or device contacts with messenger it will list your contacts who also use messenger, even if they are not your Facebook friends. If you prefer to limit who your child messages through this app, it’s a good idea to make sure they don’t sync their address book or contacts. You might also like to review who they have in their address or contact list on their device/phone.

Sending Video And Photo Messages

There are allways risks to children who send video and photos via messaging. A child may send a video or photo that is inappropriate, and that photo may be used by the receiver to bully or humiliate. There’s a risk that any photo or video that is sent via this app can be shared on to other users. There are increasing reports of children being contacted by predators who ask for inappropriate photos via messaging apps, so it is important your child never shares their phone number on social media.

Facebook Messenger Stickers
Facebook Messenger Stickers

In App Purchases?

You can send cute “Stickers” along with messages. Most of the stickers in Facebook Messenger are free right now, but make sure you have in app purchases turned off on your child’s device for any extras that might be added for your child to purchase from Facebook Messenger down the track. See Settings  – General – Restrictions – In app purchases for iDevices and go to the Google Play store account to disable them there for Android devices.

Stick To The Age Recommendations

Although Facebook Messenger is rated 4+ on the iTunes store and “Medium Maturity” on the Google Play store,  Facebook terms of service require children to be 13yrs of age to set up an account.

Privacy Issues With Facebook Messenger 

This week there has been quite a few articles being written about the Terms Of Service for Facebook Messenger. Some of the permissions seem quite alarming at first glance, and many commentators are calling for users to boycott this app.  However many of the permissions for Facebook Messenger are required to enable the basic functions. For example access to the microphone on your phone to send a voice message, access to your photo gallery to send a photo.

Facebook Messenger Terms Of Service
Facebook Messenger Terms Of Service

Is It An Improvement On The Previous Messaging App?

This messaging app works much like other messaging apps, with group chat, sending photos and cute cartoon “stickers” and video and even making voice calls. Many other messaging apps can do the same thing. The benefit of using this app, is that you can now message people that you are not friends with on Facebook by putting in their phone number, if they have also synced their address book with Facebook.

Privacy Settings:

There aren’t any privacy settings as such, all your privacy settings can be managed on your Facebook profile.

If you prefer that only your Facebook “Friends” can message you on Facebook Messenger, make sure you don’t sync your phone or mobile device’s address book. You can check to see if you have previously synced your address book with Facebook by going into “Settings” on Facebook Messenger then “Synced Contacts”. Even if it says “Off”, click on the menu tab and then click “Learn More” you can certainly delete synced contacts that you may have synced in the past here by clicking “delete”.

Then go to your Facebook profile privacy settings and make sure that your phone number is set to friends only.

To see how to set up Privacy settings for Facebook Messenger see my recent post here:

Blocking:

To block someone who has messaged you on Facebook Messenger, you need can swipe the message to the left in your message list. This reveals options of “More”, “Mute”, “Delete”. You can mute for a short time, or forever.  Clicking the “More” option gives you options to Mark it as “Spam” or delete it. You can also block the messenger from within the open message by clicking on the info (i) icon which takes you to the persons profile. To block click the “More” option under their cover picture, and select block. I haven’t found anywhere in the messaging app where you can report abuse.

Blocking In New Facebook Messenger
Blocking In New Facebook Messenger

Conclusion:

Facebook Messenger is not suitable for younger children because they have to have a Facebook profile to use it, Facebook is restricted to children 13 years and older. For children over 13years, parents need to be mindful of the address book syncing and making sure the child’s phone number is private so that only people the child knows or you approve can message them through Facebook Messenger.

  • Location services for Facebook Messenger need to be disabled.
  • Your child must understand the consequences of sending inappropriate messages.
  • Your child must also know how to block unwanted messages and contacts and make sure they don’t respond to anyone they don’t know.

For younger children Skype and iMessage are still safer options.

 

For more privacy and safety settings have a look at my cyber safety manual.

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  • Wayne

    Is there a way to set content restrictions on the messenger browser. It bypasses content controls set on the phone and provides access to explicit content?

    • Hi Wayne, the app ratings you refer to I assume you are seeing on the iTunes Store, they are not aligned with any terms of service agreements. Facebook sets the age ratings through their TOS at 13yrs and FB Messenger is the same. Facebook is also listed as 4+ also on the iTunes Store when we know 4 year olds are prevented from signing up unless they lie about their age. The ratings in iTunes are arbitrary and not regulated, and have more to do with marketing rather than legal age restrictions. No there are no adult content filters for Facebook or its messenger, unlike YouTube which does have an adult content filter. BTW YouTube is now listed as 17+ on iTunes but their TOS says 13+ with parents permission. Go figure. Apple Measenger and Skype are safer Measenging apps for kids and you can Share Skype Messenger for younger kids to view real time messages.

  • Wayne

    Hi Leonie, with adult content restricted on the IPhone Safari cannot access explicit content. If a child (or anyone for that matter), uses facebook messenger to messages themselves or their friends http://www.google.com and then click on the link they have unrestricted access to the internet. Content I suspect that you would agree 13 year olds shouldn’t have access to and most parents wouldn’t even know was available via a messaging app..

    • Yes Wayne, many apps behave this way. They often open links within the app, by-passing Safari. Facebook also does the same thing. The adult content filter for Safari only works if links open on Safari. Apps that are listed as 13+ are usually adult apps, not apps designed for children, which is why parents have to be very careful that they know what an app listed as suitable for a 13year old contains. For e.g Instagram is 13+ in their Terms of Service, but contains pornography, drug use, adult language and violence. Do I think that apps need to be better regulated? Yes I do. If an app has any chance of having pornography posted to it, it definitely should be listed as 18+, however instagram (owned by Facebook) would argue that although pornography gets through to their platform they actively discourage it, and encourage having their users report it. You are right, many parents do not know that younger teens using 13+ apps can see very adult content, which is why I’m doing all I can to educate them through this blog and in my work as a Cyber Safety Educator.

    • Yes Wayne, many apps behave this way. They often open links within the app, by-passing Safari. Facebook also does the same thing. The adult content filter for Safari only works if links open on Safari. Apps that are listed as 13+ are usually adult apps, not apps designed for children, which is why parents have to be very careful that they know what an app listed as suitable for a 13year old contains. For e.g Instagram is 13+ in their Terms of Service, but contains pornography, drug use, adult language and violence. Do I think that apps need to be better regulated? Yes I do. If an app has any chance of having pornography posted to it, it definitely should be listed as 18+, however instagram (owned by Facebook) would argue that although pornography gets through to their platform they actively discourage it, and encourage having their users report it. You are right, many parents do not know that younger teens using 13+ apps can see very adult content, which is why I’m doing all I can to educate them through this blog and in my work as a Cyber Safety Educator.

      • Wayne

        Are you up for putting some pressure on Facebook Messenger to allow Content filtering/restrictions? I think what they are doing is bordering on seditious.

        • I’m more interested in educating parents about the content within apps. There are so many apps that are listed as suitable for 13+ Teens with adult content. Of course many adults think it is suitable for 13 year olds to view adult content anyway.

          • Wayne

            My concern is that the usual precautions can be bypassed. You can restrict the phone to 4+ apps only, and you can set restrictions to block adult content as well as removing browsers (including Safari) but the messenger app, rated as 4+ can be installed with these restrictions in place and then provide access to web browsing and explicit content. Maybe you could add this concern to your conclusion on this thread…

          • Yes Wayne, which is exactly what I point out to parents. You cannot trust the ratings on iTunes. The anomaly is mentioned in this post. iTunes ratings are inconsistent and cannot be trusted. They are not a true reflection of the suitability of an app to a particular age, or aligned with an apps terms of service. I wrote a post on this some time back, and the subject is part of my education talks. https://thecybersafetylady.com.au/2015/11/age-classification-confusion-for-parents-for-video-games-and-apps/