What you need to know

  • A 'design flaw' in the Messenger Kids app allowed unauthorized users to be part of group chats.
  • Facebook has closed down the group chats and is alerting parents regarding the flaw.
  • The "technical error", reportedly arose from the way unique permissions were applied in group chats in the Messenger Kids app.

Facebook had launched the Messenger Kids app in 2017 as a messaging app designed specifically for children. Unlike the regular Messenger app, Messenger kids allows children to connect only with contacts that have been pre-approved by their parents. However, The Verge now reports that a design flaw discovered by Facebook recently allowed unapproved strangers to enter a small number of group chats in the app.

Facebook has reportedly been turning off those group chats for the past week and has also alerted thousands of parents regarding the matter. The statement reads as follows:

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.

As per The Verge, the bug arose due to the complexity of the unique permissions applied to a group chat as it involves multiple users. One who initiated the group chat could invite any user authorized to chat with them, even if the user wasn't authorized to chat with the other children that were part of the group.

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This new issue has surfaced just days before the Federal Trade Commission is expected to announce a settlement with Facebook involving a hefty $5 billion fine over violation of users' privacy. Since it has been developed for children aged below 13, Facebook's Messenger Kids is subject to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). While some privacy groups had already asked the FTC to take action against Facebook for violation of COPPA via its Messengers Kids app last year, the new privacy flaw could convince the agency to initiate another investigation against Facebook soon.

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