The Federal Trade Commission accuses Facebook of violating the law protecting children's privacy on the internet

The federal agency proposed a list of changes the company should implement regarding its privacy policy.

Meta misled the parents of its underage users and lied about access to users' private data, according to a press release issued last Wednesday from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

"Facebook has repeatedly violated its privacy promises," said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. He also asserted that the company's "recklessness has put young users at risk."

In addition to singling out Meta, the FTC proposed that the California-based company adopt changes such as a ban on selling the data it collects from its users under the age of 18.

Order to Show Cause (Redacted Public Version) by Santiago Adolfo Ospital on Scribd

The accusation in detail

Messenger Kids is one of the applications in the public agency's crosshairs. Meta promotes this messaging system as a safer chat application for children, where parents have more control. However, for a period of more than a year, "[Facebook] misled parents about their ability to control with whom their children communicated through its Messenger Kids app."

Not only could children communicate with contacts not authorized by their parents, but they could even have participated in video calls with strangers.

For this, the FTC contends that Facebook committed two violations. The company infringed, according to the agency, both the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule and an FTC order issued two years ago.

In addition, according to the document released by the agency, an independent consultant noted that the "gaps and weaknesses noted within our [privacy] review demonstrate that substantial additional work is required, an additional investment must be made."

While these issues varied in significance, the Commission staff's investigation showed the most serious deficiencies and sheer number of total gaps and weaknesses overall present substantial risks to the public.

It also blamed Facebook for not telling the truth about how much access third parties had to private information. Specifically, the FTC detailed that the company promised in 2018 that it would stop providing data from users who have not used the app in 90 days. However, "in some instances," Facebook continued to share information about such users.

Neither the first nor the second time

This is the third time the agency has taken action against Zuckerberg's company, always for allegedly failing to adequately protect users' privacy.

The first complaint came in 2011. The accusations resulted in an agreement between the two that sought to prevent Facebook from "misrepresenting its privacy practices." The FTC then took aim again at the company for breaching the earlier agreement, just months after closing it.

In 2019, the FTC issued an order against Facebook for violating the previous settlement: a $5 billion penalty and new security restrictions. It was the largest financial penalty imposed on a company for violating consumer privacy, according to the agency, and one of the government's highest penalties against any violator.

Proposed changes

The series of modifications pushed by the FTC would affect Meta's various services, such as Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus, its virtual reality technology. These include a ban on monetizing with the data of children under 18 years of age.

The company would also be required to seek user consent before activating any facial recognition technology. It shall also be prohibited from launching any new service or product without first having a written safety assessment. It must also ensure that any company it acquires complies with the above FTC restrictions.

Meta responds

"This is a political stunt," assured Meta spokesman Andy Stone. He also argued that the FTC cannot review court-approved settlements and that the timing is convenient for the agency, coming just after losing its bipartisan membership and before receiving an update from the company.