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Facebook’s Messenger Exposes Kids to Stranger Danger 

Young Girl Sitting At Desk In Bedroom Using Laptop To Do Homework

Facebook’s Messenger Exposes Kids to Stranger Danger 

Facebook Messenger Places Children at Risk 

Facebook has improved the way we communicate and connect to friends and family. However, security issues with Facebook Messenger Kids may place children at risk.  

Whenever new technology emerges, there’s always a battle between features and security. A bug in Messenger Kids, a Facebook chat app designed for children under 13 years old, has posed a real danger.

Duleep Pillai, owner of IT Managed Services company in San Jose, CA Veltec Networks shares thoughts on how children can protect themselves online.

A Major Bug Placed Children at Risk

The app lets parents control who their children can text and video chat, but a loophole placed its users at risk. A contact allowed to chat with one user was able to chat with a second without needing the second’s parental approval.

The bug occurred in a group chat setting. The organizer of the chat can invite all users that have been approved to chat with him or her. However, the invited members could also chat with one another without receiving parental approval.

While the bug did not affect every group chat on the bug, the potential consequences cannot be overlooked. It would be relatively simple for an older user to pose as a child and enter a group chat. If the deviant is able to chat with a child, they could learn their address, where they go to school, and their parents’ work hours, etc. Needless to say, the result would be a nightmare.

The Fallout

Upon discovery of the bug, Facebook closed the bugged chats and notified parents, providing them with information and resources to better monitor their child’s activity on the app. However, many parents considered it too little, too late.

The Boston-based Parent Coalition for Student Privacy filed a complaint with the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC), reporting Facebook for violating the Children’s Online Protection Act. In addition to the bug, parents were concerned with the nature of the app. Messenger Kids collected data from young children without parental consent, and used vague language in their privacy policy. The app also fell short in verifying whether the user providing consent was actually a parent, opening the doors to fake accounts and impersonation.

Facebook is no stranger to privacy concerns. Founded in 2004, the social media platform houses data on billions of users and has received numerous allegations of selling that data to third parties. The giant also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, both of which have had their share of security breaches.

A Broader Issue of Security

Facebook’s oversight in Messenger Kids is not the first, nor will it be the last instance of poor online security. Even small loopholes or issues with programming can cause data to end up where it shouldn’t. And it’s not just a matter of placing blame, but of improving standards. The requirements for privacy policies and legal standards for privacy in apps are in the infant stages.

Today’s Facebook is infinitely more complex and powerful than the innocent social media website of the 2000s. It’s virtually impossible for government regulations to keep up with the speed at which digital mediums emerge and evolve. While that freedom may allow for incredible innovation, it also comes with great risk.

We have a tendency to prioritize features over security, a trend that has resulted in significant breaches on the individual, corporate, and national levels. Any data that travels over a network can be compromised, and there’s no way for programmers to account for every possible threat to security. App developers and distributors should endeavor to have clearly defined privacy policies, and users must be more cautious with whom and what they share online.

 

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