Facebook's 'Messenger Kids' Sending Right Signals, Says CDD

The Center for Digital Democracy likes what is sees, at least initially, in the way Facebook has set up its new messaging app for younger kids.

Facebook said Monday (Dec. 4) it was rolling out Messenger Kids, an app to make it easier for kids to video chat and message safely online.

Facebook said it had talked to parents, the PTA and parenting experts before giving kids something to make it easier to connect, but with parental control.

The tablet and smartphone app allows parents to set up one-one-one or group video chats with contacts they approve of. It will also include a library of" kid-appropriate and specially chosen GIFs, frames, stickers, masks and drawing tools."

That all sounds about right to Kathryn Montgomery, senior consultant to CDD.

"In its first formal move to enter the children’s digital marketplace, Facebook has taken a responsible approach to this sensitive age group.  It has created a 'walled garden' messenger service designed exclusively for younger children; established strong parental controls; kept the service free of advertising; and restricted the use of many data collection and targeting practices that are employed routinely in its other services," she said.

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CDD has never been shy when it thinks social media and other online platforms aren't protecting child privacy, so the strong positives in Montgomery's statement are noteworthy.

But she is reserving judgment on the impact, and cautioning that the new app will need close minding. "It is too early to understand fully how young people’s engagement with this new generation of digital interactive platforms will impact their psychosocial development," she says. "All stakeholders—including health professionals, educators, scholars, advocates, policymakers, and corporations — will need to monitor very closely how these services evolve."

Social media have been under the gun lately in Washington over the ability of bad actors to reach kids and young people for nefarious purposes like sex trafficking of minors. 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.