The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) struck out at Meta on Wednesday, alleging that Facebook’s parentco is putting kids at risk and proposing tighter rules to prohibit the techco from profiting from any data it collects from users under the age of 18.
“Facebook has repeatedly violated its privacy promises,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a release. “The company’s recklessness has put young users at risk, and Facebook needs to answer for its failures.”
The FTC has claimed that Facebook violated two previous orders not to give developers access to kids’ data. The company also “misled parents” by misrepresenting how much they could control who kids talked to on its Messenger Kids app, alleges the FTC. (The promise was that kids could only talk to parent-approved contacts.) For these violations of COPPA and FTC orders from 2012 and 2020, the FTC is proposing several new changes to its existing agreement with Meta.
These include a pause on all new products and services, unless Meta has written confirmation from the FTC’s assessor that the new content’s privacy programs comply with the order’s requirements. And the company would also be prohibited from monetizing any data from kids under age 18, including its VR products.
Additionally, Meta will have to get permission from users to use any facial recognition technology (which is a growing area of interest in the kids business as more companies adopt AI tools to make sure underage users aren’t on their platforms).
The FTC asked Meta to respond within 30 days to the agency’s new proposals.
In a statement, Meta called the announcement a “political stunt” and said it’s being singled out while Chinese companies like TikTok are able to operate without constraint in America. Meta has invested US$5 billion in a privacy program since 2019, according to the statement, which adds: “We have not violated the agreement, and [we] operate an industry-leading privacy program.”
The FTC has slapped some heavy fines and restrictions on techcos in the last few years for violating kids’ privacy. Epic Games settled an agreement with the org in March to pay US$520 million for privacy violations and unwanted charges made by its video game Fortnite. And in 2019, YouTube agreed to pay a record US$170 million in fines to settle allegations that it was collecting kids’ personal info without parental consent.