A hot potato: It seems like being on the good side of news for Facebook is becoming an exception rather than the rule. Privacy concerns around the company's policies and the way it handles user data have long been a hot topic of discussion and now joining them is the Messenger Kids app, which due to a design flaw has been letting children enter group chats with unapproved strangers.
Facebook launched the Messenger Kids app in December 2017 to let kids have a safer alternative to the main Messenger platform, but a recent design flaw discovered in the app has been found going against the app's premise by letting kids into group chats with strangers.
The company has since been closing down such group chats and sending alerts to thousands of users, reports The Verge.
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."
No public statement has yet come from Facebook regarding this development but the company did confirm the authenticity of the alert to the publication. "We recently notified some parents of Messenger Kids account users about a technical error that we detected affecting a small number of group chats," said a representative, adding that they've also provided additional resources to parents regarding the app and online safety.
Meant to be used by kids under the age of 13, the Messenger Kids app allows a one-on-one chat only between a child and a user approved by the child's parents. However, the group chat feature with its complex permissions and multiple users left a loophole where an authorized user (say A) could launch a group chat with a child (say B) but then the child (B) was also able to chat with the A's other friends (C,D,E...) within the group who could be complete strangers to child (B). This resulted in many children left in group chats with unauthorized users, something that goes strictly against the idea of a safe space for children on Messenger Kids.
Reportedly, the company hasn't removed the group feature from the app itself but shutdown these groups citing the problem as a "technical error" with a promise of such an incident not happening in the future.
The Messenger Kids app is subject to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and it remains to be seen what legal action, if any, is taken considering this development. Although the last time Facebook came under cross-hairs, the FTC's $5 billion fine added $10 billion to the company's value.