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Jeremy Hunt attacks Facebook over app aimed at children

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Jeremy Hunt has publicly attacked Facebook for releasing a version of its Messenger app aimed at children, and called on the social media company to “stay away from my kids”.

The health secretary accused the company of “targeting younger children” after Facebook announced on Monday that it was conducting trials of an app called Messenger Kids in the US, which is designed to be used by pre-teens.

He said the company was failing to act responsibly despite having assured the government that it would not target its service at children, who can only use the main social media website 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!”

Asked if Theresa May agreed, a No 10 spokesman said Hunt was leading for the government on the health effects of social media on children.

Launching the app, Facebook said it had consulted widely and would require a responsible adult to set up an account for their child with all contacts added and approved by parents from their main Facebook account.

The child would not be given their own Facebook account, which is prohibited for those under 13. Instead, the app operates as an extension of the parent’s account.

Facebook also said it would block children from sharing nudity, sexual or violent content, and have a dedicated moderation team to respond to flagged content.

Facebook had no immediate response to a request for comment on Hunt’s intervention.

But in a blogpost for the launch, Facebook’s Loren Cheng said: “Today, 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.

“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 the people who were going to use it, as well as experts who could help guide our thinking.

“In addition to our research with thousands of parents, we’ve engaged with over a dozen expert advisers in the areas of child development, online safety and children’s media and technology who’ve helped inform our approach to building our first app for kids.”

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