Facebook’s Messenger Kids app had one job: to allow parents to control who their kids can chat with. It was supposed to ensure kids could only talk to people their parents had hand-selected as contacts. It turns out, it couldn’t even fulfill this basic promise, piling on to the company’s poor record on user privacy.
On July 22, the platform sent out notices to parents that it had found a “technical error” which allowed their child’s parent-approved friends to add their own, separate friends to a group chat. Parents normally approve any user their child is allowed to chat with. But a child who launched a group chat could invite any user from their parent-approved list, even if they weren’t approved by the other parents, which was the whole point of the Messenger Kids app. Because the app allows adults (ostensibly grandparents or other family members) to be on a child’s approved contact list, this means an adult unknown to a child could have had direct access to them.
The Verge first reported the alert, and Facebook confirmed the problem, saying the notice had been sent out to thousands of users. The company turned off the affected chats.
Child advocates have criticized the app since the day it launched, in December 2017, for posing a risk to kids’ mental health, as well as raising concerns about data collection on children below the age of 13. They’ve petitioned the company to get rid of the app after court documents revealed that it let children spend thousands of dollars on gaming on Facebook without their parents’ knowledge.