Since children aren’t allowed to have full-blown Facebook accounts until they’re 13 years old, in 2017, Facebook launched Messenger Kids, which lets children between 6 and 12 years old chat with family members and a list of friends preapproved by their parents. When it launched, Facebook said it was designed to serve as a “fun, safer solution” for family communications. Somewhere along the way, though, a “technical error” in the app snuck in, making it possible for a child to enter a group chat with friends of friends (aka strangers) who hadn’t been approved by their parents.
Last week, Facebook sent out a notice to thousands of users’ parents informing them of the technical snafu that made the social media safe space not so safe. The company said the error only affected a limited number of group chats. “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 spokesperson told Fast Company. “We turned off the affected chats and provided parents with additional resources on Messenger Kids and online safety.”
Since Messenger Kids is designed for children, concerned parents, privacy groups, the company, and potentially federal employees may have some privacy concerns as the app falls under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA. News of the potential privacy violation comes as Facebook is facing a massive $5 billion fine for privacy violations related to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
The glitch also comes after child health experts, doctors, and educators wrote an open letter to Facebook urging them to pull the app on the grounds that “younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts.” Now, parents may heed the alarm sound.