9 out of 10 children in the U.S. between the ages of six and twelve have access to smart devices. And while parents know it’s important for their children to learn to use technology in today’s digital world, 75% want more visibility into their kids’ digital activities. This is precisely why Facebook designed Messenger Kids to empower parents to monitor their children’s safety online. However, the popular social media platform had to recently warn users of a security issue within this app for kids.
The central benefit of Messenger Kids is that children can only chat with other users their parents approve of. Yet one design flaw within the group chat feature prevented Facebook from upholding this rule. Children who started a group chat could include any of their approved connections in the conversation, even if a user was not authorized to message the other kids in the chat. As a result, thousands of children were able to connect with users their parents weren’t aware of via this flaw.
Luckily, Facebook removed the unauthorized group chats and flagged the issue to all affected users, promising that that potentially unsafe chats won’t happen again. While Facebook has not yet made a formal public response, they confirmed the bug to The Verge:
“We recently notified some parents of Messenger Kids account users about a technical error that we detected affecting a small number of group chats. We turned off the affected chats and provided parents with additional resources on Messenger Kids and online safety.”
Now, Facebook is currently working on still resolving the bug itself. However, there are still many actions parents can take to ensure that their child is safe on Facebook Messenger, and social media apps in general. Start by following these four best practices to secure your kid’s online presence:
- Turn on automatic app updates on your child’s device. Updates usually include new and improved app features that your child will be excited to try. But more importantly, they tend to account for security bugs. Delaying updates can leave apps vulnerable to cybercriminals and turning on automatic app updates ensures that you don’t have to worry about missing one.
- Get educated. Some parents find it helpful to use the same apps as their child to better understand how it works and what safety threats might be relevant. Facebook also offers resources online that provide guidance for staying safe, such as how and when to block a user and what kind of content is or isn’t risky to share. Additionally, it’s always a best practice to read the terms and conditions of an app before downloading to make sure you’re aware of what your child is signing up for.
- Keep an open dialogue about online safety. It’s important to discuss your child’s online activities with them and walk them through best internet practices, such as changing passwords every so often and not clicking on links from unknown sources. That way, they’ll be better prepared for potential cyberthreats. Making the internet a part of the conversion will also help your child feel comfortable coming to you about things they might be skeptical about online.
- Consider leveraging a security solution with parental controls. Depending on your child’s age and how much of a window you want into their online behaviors, you can leverage a solution such as McAfee Safe Family that can be helpful for creating a safe online environment. You can block certain websites and create predefined rules, which will help prevent your child from sharing comprising information.