US lawmakers feel social networking app Facebook Messenger Kids isn’t as safe as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg intended it to be since its December of 2017 release.
On Tuesday, US Democratic Senators outlined their concerns in a letter to Zuckerberg, questioning whether the app for kids ages six to 12 is actually safe. The letter came shortly after Facebook came forward about a “technical error” in their app in July that revealed children’s ability to join group chats with people their parents hadn’t approved.
US Lawmakers Outline Concerns for Facebook
Senators Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut expressed their apprehension over this “flaw” in the safety and privacy of children online. The senators made it clear in the letter that, “[Facebook] has a responsibility to meet its promise to parents that children are not exposed to unapproved contacts, a promise that it appears Facebook has not fulfilled.” They’ve put forth nine questions to Zuckerberg with a deadline of August 27, 2019 for answers.
The questions put forth in the senators’ letter:
- When did Facebook first become aware of the Messenger Kids design flaw that allowed children to engage in chats with unapproved users?
- When did Facebook make the impacted children and parents aware of the flaw in the Messenger Kids product and any actions Facebook had taken in response? Does Facebook believe that all affected parents have been notified?
- How long has this design flaw existed within the Messenger Kids app?
- Are parents able to review the unapproved group chats their children were a part of or otherwise learn what information was shared in these interactions? If not, why not?
- Has Facebook initiated a review of the Messenger Kids app to identify other flaws that present similar children’s privacy concerns? If not, will Facebook commit to doing so?
- What product design and testing measures has Facebook put into place to ensure that any further flaw does not undermine the security of the Messenger Kids app in the future?
- Was Facebook ever contacted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regarding the October 3, 2018 Request for Investigation regarding Messenger Kids? If so, what were the results of this communication?
- In light of Facebook’s July 24, 2019 settlement with the FTC, does Facebook consider itself released from liability for the matters raised by the October 3, 2018 Request for Investigation regarding Messenger Kids?
- Does Facebook consider itself released from liability from any COPPA violations related to this design flaw because of its July 24, 2019 settlement with FTC?
Facebook’s been receiving scrutiny by children advocates since its release date. Children and parents are urging that Facebook Messenger Kids be shut down on the grounds of it violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”). In October of 2018, advocacy groups called on the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) to investigate Facebook’s violations of COPPA.
Apparently, Facebook’s parental consent mechanism isn’t meeting COPPA’s requirements wherein any “parent,” even a “fake” one, can approve the child’s account.
US Democratic Senators question whether other flaws have been identified that present similar concerns for children’s privacy, and if Facebook has ever been contacted by the FTC regarding October of 2018 request for further investigation on Facebook Messenger Kids.