Children, without even searching for it, can stumble across porn or risqué images online, or receive messages from strangers. It happens in the most-innocuous places: the Fitbit activity-tracking app, Google Docs, Pinterest and, lately, Facebook ’s search engine.
Parents get exasperated trying to manage what their children see online. Just when you think you’ve instituted all the parental controls and installed all the web filters, your kid gets a friend request from a stranger or finds photos of lingerie-clad women while searching for cookie recipes.
Last weekend, the online parental-control and monitoring service Bark warned parents that due to some kind of bug in Facebook’s search engine, typing a single letter into the search bar and then choosing to see video results yielded a lengthy menu of sexually explicit videos. “We’re investigating reports of some inappropriate content showing up in some searches,” a Facebook spokeswoman told me. “We’re implementing changes and, out of an abundance of caution, we have disabled certain parts of search until we complete our investigation. We apologize for this error.”
In December, Heather Gillstrap’s 12-year-old daughter received in her email a Fitbit friend request from a stranger whose profile picture was of a partially nude woman. The Alabama mother removed her daughter’s email address from the app.
A Fitbit spokeswoman said the company’s Fitbit Ace 2 is designed for kids 6 and up and was developed with safety in mind; all friend requests go to a parent’s account for approval. Even with models intended for users 13 and older—like the Fitbit Alta that Ms. Gillstrap’s daughter has—there are ways to report inappropriate content and adjust settings to keep certain information private. The spokeswoman said Fitbit has controls on the back end to stop a lot of the spammers but can’t stop them all.