Children’s safety online has been a concern for parents as long as the internet has been around. And while the ways kids interact with technology have only grown, there have also been new developments in ways parents can monitor, or at the very least limit, their access. But, like so many things we put into the internet, this requires a certain amount of trust that things are going to work the way they’re supposed to.
As the Verge first reported Monday, a flaw in Facebook’s messaging app for children, Facebook Kids, has inadvertently allowed them to do exactly what the app was designed to avoid: chat with strangers. The app is designed so children can only message a pre-approved list from parents. Kids are also able to create group chats, which allowed any participant to add a person from their approved chat list. In other words, a new addition to a group chat only had to be an approved contact of one member.
The Verge found out about this after they obtained a copy of the message Facebook was sending parents about affected chats in the past few days. The message reads as follows:
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.
“We turned off the affected chats and provided parents with additional resources on Messenger Kids and online safety,” a representative to Facebook told the Verge.
This was the one thing Messenger Kids was designed to prevent. An astounding failure, and another reason this app never should have been built https://t.co/tSpKBkJZg8
— Casey Newton (@CaseyNewton) July 22, 2019
This isn’t the first time Facebook Messenger Kids has come under fire. Back in 2018, a filing was made to the FTC claiming the app violates children’s privacy. As with the privacy of adults on the internet, the privacy of kids on the internet may always be more tenuous than we imagine.