Jeremy Hunt has told Facebook to "stay away from my kids" after it launched a new messaging app aimed at children. The health secretary accused the company of “targeting younger children” and failing to act responsibly despite having assured the government that it would not target its service at children, who until this launch, can only use Facebook if they are over 13.
“Not sure this is the right direction at all,” he tweeted. “Facebook told me they would come back with ideas to PREVENT underage use of their product, but instead they are actively targeting younger children. Stay away from my kids please Facebook and act responsibly!”
Messenger Kids is being trialled in the US as a standalone app that does not require a main Facebook profile - allowing children under the age of 13 to use it while giving parents complete control over what their children see.
The app is controlled through a parent's Facebook account, from which contacts can be added and approved.
Facebook says the app has been designed to enable children to "safely" video chat and message friends and family. It added that during 18 months of development it consulted with 1,200 parents, as well as online security and child development specialists.
"Parents are increasingly allowing their children to use tablets and smartphones, but often have questions and concerns about how their kids use them and which apps are appropriate," Facebook director Loren Cheng said.
"So when we heard about the need for better apps directly from parents during research and conversations with parents, we knew we needed to develop it alongside with the people who were going to use it, as well as experts who could help guide our thinking."
The social network says Messenger Kids complies with US child online privacy laws and contains no adverts.
It is currently only available in the US on Apple's iOS operating system.