Culture 3 min read

Facebook Messenger Kids' Bug Lets Children Chat With Strangers

A bug in Facebook Messenger Kids app has allowed children to bypass their parents' authorization and chat with unapproved users.

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

On Monday, Facebook announced that a “technical error” allowed children using its Messenger for Kids app join group chats that are unapproved by the parents. As you can imagine, the error undercuts the purpose of the app.

Facebook designed the Messenger Kids app for children between 6 and 12 years old. They could send messages and video chat with friends and family members that their parents accept.

But due to a design flaw, users can sidestep the protection using the group chat system. Children using the messenger app can now join group chats with unapproved strangers.

Although Facebook spent the last week closing down the group chats, they did not make any public statement on the issue. However, the tech company sent a message to notify parents of the technical error.

Image Credit: Screenshot from The Verge

In a statement to The Verge, Facebook confirmed the authenticity of the alert. The representative said:

“We recently notified some parents of Messenger Kids to 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 Facebook Messenger for Kids’ Design Flaw

The bug was reportedly caused by the way the app’s unique permissions work in group chats. Here is how it acts.

For a child to initiate conversation in a standard one-on-one chat with another user, the child’s parent must authorize the user beforehand. But, group chat contains multiple users. As such, the permissions get more complicated.

In this case, a user can launch a group and invite other users who were authorized to chat with them. However, these invited users may not be permitted to chat with other children in the group. So, thousands of children were able to chat with unapproved users.

According to The Verge, it’s “unclear how long the bug was present in the app.”

Facebook Messenger for Kids and Online Privacy

Once again, this raises questions about Facebook’s privacy policy.

The Messenger Kids app has been controversial since its December 2017 launch with several child advocacy groups urging Facebook to shut it down. The groups argue that since the app collects user data, it violates the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The latest breach has only done more to heighten those concerns.

Read More: What Are the Best Times For Brands to Post on Facebook

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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