In Mark Zuckerberg’s world, if you’re 13 or older, you’re mature enough to use Facebook.
Some parents would probably disagree.
“If a parent gives a child access to Facebook, it’s essentially all or nothing,” says Cole Ratias, founder and CEO of Loytr, a San Francisco-based developer of mobile apps. Once an unsupervised teen has signed up for the billion-strong social network, he or she can configure their privacy settings however they like, potentially exposing them to inappropriate images, language, bullying, or friend requests from strangers. Or at least, so their parents might fear.
That’s the concern Loytr’s new app FamilyControls is designed to address.
It’s a $4.99 iPad app that, in most respects, duplicates Loytr’s highly successful MyPad app, which gives users one-stop access to their data and social feeds on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The big difference is that FamilyControls offers settings that parents can use to make browsing Facebook into a supervised experience. Access controls built into the app let parents determine exactly how much of the Facebook universe their kids will see.
“It gives control back to parents,” says Ratias. “It lets them say, I am going to give my kids access to Facebook, but I want to share that experience with them, and I want to be able to say, ‘You can read this message, but that post is inappropriate for you.’”
Ratias thinks the app will be especially useful for parents of 13- to 15-year-olds—a transition period when kids may not be the best judges of what to post or how to react to unwanted attention online.
Loytr released its first app, MyPad, in 2010. The app has since been downloaded more than 60 million times and has 12 million registered users.
“After building MyPad, obviously we became experts with Facebook, and frequently my friends would complain to me about their qualms about Faceboook,” Ratias says. “The most frequent complaint I heard was about children and their lack of social-media experience. Parents are afraid to give them access to a pervasive social network.”
FamilyControls, which hit the iTunes App Store at midnight Thursday, is similar to MyPad, but has controls that allow parents to turn off certain features of Facebook.
For example, they can prevent children from posting photos or status updates; prevent shared websites and videos from appearing in a child’s news feed; prevent children from sending or accepting friend requests; turn off Facebook’s messaging and chat features; and filter out posts with “bad words” or other inappropriate content. Parents can also set the app to e-mail them with alerts and notifications about their children’s activities.
The parental settings in FamilyControls are protected by a PIN code (shown above). Obviously, the app is only effective at limiting children’s access to Facebook if parents also configure their iPads to keep children from using other routes, such as a mobile browser or Facebook’s native app, to access to the service. (They can do that using the “restrictions” settings in iOS to prevent kids from accessing Safari or installing new apps.)
With all of its restrictions turned on, FamilyControls would filter out much of the content that, to adults, makes Facebook useful and interesting. But Ratias says the intention isn’t to make Facebook boring for kids. Rather, he says, the app is designed to lead to teachable moments when parents and kids can discuss what’s acceptable on social media.
“Our product offers something no one else can do, which is a shared experience where the kids and parents can use FamilyControls to access Facebook together,” Ratias says. Kids “are still able to see friends’ posts and profiles and pictures and do everything that they should want to do on Facebook.”