Facebook fixes critical flaw that lets kids chat with strangers

Facebook has recently been closing down group chats and alerting users of a design flaw in its Messenger Kids app, although they have yet to make a public announcement regarding the issue. The Messenger Kids app is basically built around the core promise that children won’t be able to communicate on the app with strangers that aren’t approved by their parents first.

The Verge obtained the following message that was sent to users affected:

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.

Basically, a loophole has been discovered. The unique permissions (authorised users only) don’t work quite as well in group chats; as long as the users who are invited to a group are authorised to chat with the person who invited them, they can join the chat. However, this means that users can communicate with other, unauthorised contacts within the group chat.

This goes against the core premise that Facebook Messenger Kids is built on: that kids won’t be able to talk to anyone that isn’t approved by their parents beforehand. Facebook says that they sent the alert above to thousands of users recently, explaining that, “We turned off the affected chats and provided parents with additional resources on Messenger Kids and online safety.”

What’s a tad scary is the fact that no one seems to know how long this loophole has been in the app, which has been around since late 2017. The Messenger Kids app is made for children below the age of 13, and Facebook has been subject to criticism in the past for allegedly collecting data from its users.

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And despite taking action on the bug that’s been found in the Kids Messenger app, Facebook will continue to be subject to more watchful, and critical, attention.