Given the growing number of young users on the Internet, that has also been a rise in apps that cater specifically to this young audience. Those range from educational or entertainment apps to parental control apps. Those, of course, have to take great care in making sure the young ones don’t get exposed to harmful content. Unfortunately, just like in any other piece of software, those apps can have bugs and one found in Facebook’s Messenger Kids app practically bypassed all the protection that the app promised.
Kids chatting with strangers is one of parents’ worst nightmares. That is why most chat apps designed for kids limit them to contacts that are explicitly handpicked or approved by parents and guardians. Messenger Kids is no different in that regard and it normally works at least for one-on-one chats.
The problem, however, is that those rules are thrown out the window when the relatively new group chat is involved. An approved friend can apparently invite a child into a chat group but that child will also be able to chat with the friend’s other approved friends even if those are complete strangers to the child. Unless they all know each other in person, that practically means that the child will be chatting online with strangers
Facebook hasn’t officially acknowledged the situation but did confirm to The Verge that it has sent out emails to parents warning them of what transpired. Facebook admits it is a “technical error” and has shut down those group chats. It hasn’t, however, backtracked on the feature itself but promises such errors won’t happen in the future.
Facebook is already under heavy fire for violations of privacy but things could quickly escalate because of this new revelation. While Facebook does meet the barest requirement of the law for kids under 13, privacy advocates have lambasted it for collecting information on these young users, despite what laws say.