The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has proposed sweeping changes to its 2020 privacy order with Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, after alleging that the social media giant has violated the order and misled parents about their children’s online safety.
The FTC said on Wednesday that Meta has failed to fully comply with the order, which required the company to pay a $5 billion civil penalty and implement a comprehensive privacy program. The agency also accused Meta of continuing to give app developers access to users’ private information that it claimed had been cut off, and of causing new harm by misrepresenting the parental controls on its Messenger Kids app.Embed from Getty Images
“Facebook has repeatedly violated its privacy promises,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The company’s recklessness has put young users at risk, and Facebook needs to answer for its failures.”
As part of the proposed changes, Meta would be prohibited from launching any new products or services on any of its platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus, without obtaining written confirmation from the FTC that they comply with the order. Meta would also be barred from collecting or using any personal data from users under the age of 18 for any commercial purpose, including advertising or virtual reality.
The FTC said that this blanket prohibition is necessary because Meta has violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule (COPPA Rule), which requires companies to obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting or using personal data from children under 13. The agency alleged that Meta misled parents about their ability to control who their children communicated with through its Messenger Kids app, which was launched in 2017 as a child-friendly version of its popular messaging service.Embed from Getty Images
According to the FTC, a technical glitch in the app allowed children to join group chats and video calls with unapproved contacts, potentially exposing them to strangers or predators. The agency said that Meta knew about this problem since at least 2018, but failed to fix it until mid-2019, and only notified a small number of affected users.
Meta denied the FTC’s allegations and called the proposed changes “a political stunt” and “a new low.” A spokesperson for the company said that the FTC gave Meta “no opportunity to discuss this new, totally unprecedented theory” and that it is trying to “usurp the authority of Congress” to set industry-wide standards.
“FTC Chair Lina Khan’s insistence on using any measure—however baseless—to antagonize American business has reached a new low,” the spokesperson said. “Let’s be clear about what the FTC is trying to do: single out one American company while allowing Chinese companies, like TikTok, to operate without constraint on American soil.”
This is the third time that the FTC has taken action against Meta for allegedly failing to protect users’ privacy. The agency first filed a complaint against Facebook in 2011 and secured an order in 2012 barring the company from misrepresenting its privacy practices. But according to a subsequent complaint filed by the agency, Facebook violated the first order within months of it being finalized—engaging in misrepresentations that helped fuel the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Meta has 30 days to respond to the FTC’s allegations and proposed changes. If it fails to do so, or if it fails to comply with the modified order, it could face further penalties or legal action.
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