Best cross-platform free messaging option for 9-year-olds?
December 19, 2014 3:26 PM   Subscribe

My 9-year-old daughter has an old wifi-only iPhone. Her 9-year-old friend has an old wifi-only android phone (i.e., neither is on a contract). They want to be able to message each other for free. What's the best option?

(1) Texting isn't an option; the phones aren't on cellular and no one has a texting plan.
(2) Someone in a previous thread suggested AIM. It's currently my top contender, but AIM requires you to be 13 for an account. (I could lie, of course---but is there a better option?)
(3) What's App has been suggested. There is a $1/year charge, and there's some concern (from the other mother especially) that it asks for/shares too much personal information about the kids. Plus apparently it was just bought by Facebook.
(4) Ability to set up whitelists would be awesome.
posted by leahwrenn to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I use Xabber on my Android phone - it's a client on which you can use many messaging services. (I use it for google chat, if they each have gmail email addresses that could work.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:32 PM on December 19, 2014

Because of COPPA you might find it difficult to find services that allow accounts for children under 13. I think most people just lie for things like Facebook or GMail. I don't know how often accounts are shut down for belonging to someone under 13.
posted by ODiV at 3:33 PM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just FYI, almost everything will require her to be 13 - it's a federal law thing (there has to be a ton of parental approval for things that allow under 13s). WhatsApp actually requires you to be 16. None of this is actually enforced anywhere, usually, it's mostly a CYA for the company

Do they have google/gmail accounts (of course, they also have to be 13 for those, but... shrug)? I use Google Hangouts and it works well.
posted by brainmouse at 3:36 PM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

This was just my first result when googling, but you could set up your own personal xmpp/jabber server, giving only specific folks the ability to create accounts, then they'd access it via xabber or similar. Not sure what your comfort level with setting up/hosting such a thing would be. Search "set up personal xmpp server" and there's tons of results.
posted by HermitDog at 3:49 PM on December 19, 2014

Response by poster: My daughter's got an iCloud email (Apple changed their requirements as of iOS 8 with family stuff); I don't know if her friend has an email or not. No gmail emails.
posted by leahwrenn at 3:53 PM on December 19, 2014

Heytell is free and works for me on ios and a friend on android, but it's voice messaging, not text.
posted by pompomtom at 3:58 PM on December 19, 2014

WeChat may be the best bet. It's free (or at most $0.99) and cross platform.
posted by Hermione Granger at 5:56 PM on December 19, 2014

posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:04 PM on December 19, 2014

No gmail emails, so that means Google Voice is out as an option? I set up my nieces using GV + iPod touches this way.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:20 PM on December 19, 2014

Seconding LINE, can use it on PC too.
posted by Infernarl at 8:27 PM on December 19, 2014

Telegram works well for this. It's similar to What's App and runs on PC's and tablets too.
posted by blub at 2:41 AM on December 20, 2014

Disney Fairies and Cars used to offer a chat function specifically for that age range. I know the Pixie Hollow site is closed now but I'd poke around to see if the new Fairy site offers something similar
posted by spunweb at 9:54 AM on December 20, 2014

Everything technically requires 13+ unless it's specifically designed for under-13s, and those require parental permission, usually costs money, and are generally PC-only and very locked down. (And not for Android/iPhone.) (Yes, regardless of how obvious - or not - they make that requirement.) It seems to be very rare that accounts are shut down for this reason, though - and generally requires real people to have made multiple complaints... if that even does it.

Also, keep in mind that handing an old, not-in-service phone to the kids for play or wifi use still has its hazards, because even with no contract or service, most of them are still new enough that they were required to be made in a way that 911 can always be called. And that can turn into a mess.
posted by stormyteal at 8:22 PM on December 20, 2014

Viber. Definitely Viber. I tried the rest, what's app, snapchat, line...Viber. You pick who's on your list, no advertising/spyware, also on desktop, and bonus for 13yr olds: stickers.
posted by sexyrobot at 4:56 PM on December 21, 2014

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