Messenger Kids App Fails To Protect Minors 07/24/2019

Ruben Fields
July 24, 2019

We found a technical error that allowed [CHILD] s friend [FRIEND] to create a group chat with [FRIEND] s parent-approved friends. This ended up effectively circumventing the main objective of the app. Facebook has since shut that down, removed users from said group chats and has notified parents of the issues.

Facebook released a messenger app in 2017 tailor-made for kids so that their guardians could keep check of who they were chatting with. "However, Facebook failed to ensure that this protection is in place".

The unsettling revelation comes in the same week that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is expected to announce a colossal $5 billion settlement with Facebook over its handling of data belonging to 87 million users caught up in the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal.

Needless to say, the fact that kids were able to bypass one of Facebook's major safeguards through one of the most common messaging app features is not particularly reassuring.

Facebook also said that it promptly turned off those affected chats, "and provided parents with additional resources on Messenger Kids and online safety". That works if the conversation's only one-on-one, but Messenger Kids allows for group chats, and that's where the issue of permissions gets tricky.

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The problem, however, is that those rules are thrown out the window when the relatively new group chat is involved. Wednesday also appreciate your feedback.

For example, a girl who uses the app can join group chats if she was invited by a friend approved by her parents. However, a recently discovered design flaw in the app allowed young users to do precisely the opposite: participate in group chats with adults, without their parents' permission.

If you want to figure out whether your child has been in unsupervised group chats, Lifehacker has a simple guide to walk you through it.

Children's safety online has been a concern for parents as long as the internet has been around. Almost 100 of them signed a letter asking Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg to delete the app over concerns that increased screen time has been shown to cause stress, negative body images, and sleep deprivation, according to multiple studies the letter cites.

Despite its best efforts, Facebook's Messenger Kids app has failed to protect the privacy of its underage users. It's unclear if the company will face any further fines as a result of this bug or if their actions following it being uncovered will be considered sufficient enough.

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