A technical error allowed Messenger Kids group chats to be held with people who hadn’t been parent-approved to talk to their children. Parents are being notified by Facebook.
Facebook’s Messenger Kids app is meant to offer “safer and more fun video calls and messaging” for children under the age 13. Now it has been revealed the app allowed children to talk to strangers.
As The Verge reports, Facebook has for the past week been sending out an alert to parents informing them that a “technical error” allowed individuals who weren’t parent-approved to enter a group chat with their children.
The alert reads as follows:
Hi [PARENT], 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
The design flaw occurred because Facebook didn’t realize/foresee that individuals parent-approved for one child wouldn’t also be approved for another. In a group chat situation it meant the child initiating the chat could invite approved people who then were able to chat with other children they weren’t parent-approved to chat with. As Messenger Kids is subject to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), this may count as a violation.
Facebook has now disabled such unauthorized chats from happening, but the alert is going out to thousands of users. Nothing was said publicly about the technical error until The Verge learned of the flaw and alerts. Facebook then confirmed the alert was authentic and that the technical error “affected a small number of group chats.”
Alerting parents and stopping unauthorized group chats from happening is a good start, but there could certainly be further action taken. We don’t know how long the technical error was present in the app or how big the “small number” of group chats affected is. Parents could rightly decide to take action against the social network for exposing their kids to strangers. The FTC may also get involved if a COPPA violation has occurred.