Facebook has been alerting parents about a design bug that allowed children on its Messenger Kids app to enter group chats with unapproved contacts, reports The Verge. Facebook has not yet made any public statements about this privacy flaw that likely put children using the app at risk and violated one of the core promises of the app. The Verge reports that Facebook has been messaging parents about this flaw and closing these chats.
What is Facebook Messenger Kids app?
Facebook Messenger Kids app is aimed at children under 13-years of age. The app is available on both iOS and Android. Facebook has an age-limit of 13-years for its regular apps and services, but the Messenger Kids app is designed for children aged six to 12.
The app was launched back in December 2017, but even at the time it had faced criticism for encouraging young children to join social media. Facebook’s Vice President of Messaging Products David Marcus had then defended the Messenger Kids app, saying it was “a good product,” and told TechCrunch that it was not the same as Snapchat, adding that the idea was to make it easier for families to incorporate their younger kids into group chats.
On Messenger Kids, parents have to download the app on their child’s smartphone, create the profile and also approve which family, friends they can chat and text with. The app later added an optional feature, which would allow children to request for a parent’s approval for adding ‘new contacts.’
It was reported that both parents would receive the contact request from their child and both would have to approve this before the child could start the conversation. The idea with Facebook’s Messenger Kids app is that the parent decides the child’s social media interactions. But it appears there was a design flaw around this.
What is the reported issue with Facebook Messenger Kids app?
According to The Verge, a technical error allowed a child’s friend to create a group with a child and other parent-approved friends, thus letting other children join a group chat with users who might not have been approved by their parents.
Facebook in its message to parents said, “We want you to know that we’ve turned off this group chat and are making sure that group chats like this won’t be allowed in the future. If you have questions about Messenger Kids and online safety, please visit our Help Center and Messenger Kids parental controls. We’d also appreciate your feedback.”
Facebook confirmed to the website that the message was authentic, and said it has turned off the affected group chats. The problem took place when the parent’s permissions, which were granted for one contact also got applied to the entire group chat.
The report notes, “Whoever launched the group could invite any user who was authorized to chat with them, even if that user wasn’t authorized to chat with the other children in the group. As a result, thousands of children were left in chats with unauthorized users.”
As the report notes, this would violate the app’s core promise that children could not chat with those not explicitly approved by their parents. The group feature was launched in December when the app first went live.