Facebook Messenger Kids App Allowed Unauthorized Users

Facebook has quietly alerted parents about a bug in Facebook’s Messenger Kids app. A design flaw enabled users to sidestep the system that allows parents to limit who can connect with their children.

The Verge reported (and Facebook confirmed) that Facebook sent out an alert to parents.

Hi [Parent],
We found a technical error that allows [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 one 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.

In short, The Verge reported that the child who initiated the group chat could invite friends who their parent approved of. The rest of the kids in the group chat could talk with each other, no matter whether or not their own parent’s had approved of the other children.

Messenger Kids is a free video calling and messaging app designed for kids to connect with close friends and family from their tablet or smartphone. The app’s description says: “Kids can only connect with parent-approved contacts, which creates a more controlled environment.” Group or one-on-one video calls with loved ones are more fun with interactive masks, reactions and sound effects.

Information about the Messenger Kids app stated that parents can control their child’s contact list and decide who can connect with their children. Messages in the app do not disappear and cannot be hidden. This enables parents to be able to read those messages.

At a glance, it sounds as though the Messenger Kids app, which was designed for children under the age of 13, had a reasonable amount of safety and privacy mechanisms built into it. Unfortunately, a bug that affected group chats has ruined that sense of safety.