Facebook Messenger Kids faces scrutiny from US lawmakers

A flaw in the app let children chat with people who hadn't been OK'd by their parents.

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Queenie Wong was a senior writer for CNET News, focusing on social media companies including Facebook's parent company Meta, Twitter and TikTok. Before joining CNET, she worked for The Mercury News in San Jose and the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. A native of Southern California, she took her first journalism class in middle school.
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Queenie Wong
2 min read

US lawmakers have questions about Facebook Messenger Kids.

Angela Lang/CNET

Facebook has landed in the hot seat yet again, but this time it's about concerns surrounding a messaging app the social network built for kids.

On Tuesday, two US Democratic senators sent Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg nine questions about Messenger Kids, an app that lets kids between 6 and 12 years old send text messages and have video chats with family members and friends whom their parents approve.

The letter came after Facebook said in July that a "technical error" allowed thousands of children who used Messenger Kids to join group chats with people who weren't approved by their parents.

Sens. Edward Markey, of Massachusetts, and Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, wrote in the letter that they're "disturbed" by the revelation. Since the debut of Messenger Kids in December 2017, child advocates have repeatedly urged Facebook to shut down the app and have argued that it violates a federal law aimed at protecting a child's online privacy. Last year, advocacy groups filed a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission.

In the letter, the senators say they're concerned about "a worrying pattern of lax privacy protections for kids on the Messenger Kids platform."

A Facebook spokesman said the company had only just received the letter and didn't yet have answers to the senators' questions.

The senators also ask Facebook in the letter when the company first learned of the design flaw and how long it existed. And they inquired about the company's correspondence with the FTC and how the record $5 billion settlement the agency announced affects the concerns around Messenger Kids.

The senators requested that Facebook answer their questions by Aug. 27. 

Originally published Aug. 6, 10:05 a.m. PT.
Update, 11:21 a.m.: Adds comment from Facebook.