Facebook Flaw Allowed Kids To Join Unauthorised Chats

Facebook has begun fixing a design flaw with the Messenger Kids app that allowed children to talk with people that they are not authorised to.

The flaw was a serious online safety flaw as the Messenger Kids app is designed to stop children under 13 years old from entering group conversations with users who have not been approved by their parents or carers.

But it seems that this was possible to do as a design flaw, which Facebook described as a ‘technical error’ that allowed a friend of a child to set up a group chat with the child. It was possible for the friend (who has been approved by parents/carers) to could include a third party person who was not approved by the child’s parents or carers in the group conversation.

Facebook Flaw

The design flaw was first reported on by The Verge, which reported that Facebook has for the past week been quietly closing down those group chats and alerting users, without making any public statements disclosing the issue.

However it was able to obtain a copy of the alert that Facebook had sent out to parents and carers.

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.

Facebook then apparently confirmed to The Verge that the message was authentic, and said the alert had been sent to thousands of users in recent days.

“We recently notified some parents of Messenger Kids account users about a technical error that we detected affecting a small number of group chats,” a Facebook representative told the website. “We turned off the affected chats and provided parents with additional resources on Messenger Kids and online safety.”

It seems that the flaw arose from the way Messenger Kids’ unique permissions were applied in group chats, as opposed to one-on-one chats.

The Verge said it was unclear how long the bug was present in the app, but it could have been around since Messenger Kids launched with group features in December 2017.

Privacy troubles

The flaw comes at a time when the firm is facing trouble on a number of fronts from regulators and watchdogs around the world.

Facebook is reportedly close to reaching a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over the Cambridge Analytica data sharing scandal.

That settlement could see it pay as much as $3bn to $5bn in penalties.

On this side of the pond fined half a million pounds by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO), over its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Quiz: Think you know all about Facebook?

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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