A design flaw in Facebook’s “Messenger Kids” app allowed children to chat with strangers not approved by their parents.
The Verge reports that Facebook’s Messenger Kids app recently suffered a design flaw which allowed children using the app to contact unauthorized users. The app is designed to only allow children to contact pre-approved users selected by their parents, but the recent bug allowed children to enter group chats with unapproved users. Facebook has been closing down these group chats and alerting parents about the issue but has not made a public statement about the problem.
The alert to some users reads:
We found a technical error that allowed [CHILD]’s friend [FRIEND] to create a group chat with [CHILD] and one or more of [FRIEND]’s parent-approved friends. 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 Verge that the message was a real Facebook notification, stating: “We recently notified some parents of Messenger Kids account users about a technical error that we detected affecting a small number of group chats. We turned off the affected chats and provided parents with additional resources on Messenger Kids and online safety.”
The bug was caused by the Messenger Kids unique app permission being applied to group chats. Usually, children can only start conversations with Facebook users who have been approved by the child’s parents, but these permissions become more complex when group chats are involved. A Facebook user that started a group chat could invite a user who was authorized to chat with them, even if that user wasn’t authorized to chat with the other people in the group. As a result, thousands of children were added to group chats with unauthorized users.
This particular bug has a high level of legal sensitivity due to the fact that the Messenger Kids app is designed for children under the age of 13-years-old and is subject to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). This bug has appeared just as Facebook is settling charges related to the Cambridge Analytica scandal with the Federal Trade Commission, showing once again that the company has major issues with user privacy and data protection.