Facebook Accused of Misleading Parents

Close-up shot of the Messenger Kids mobile app from Facebook, Inc. | Image by OpturaDesign, Shutterstock

The Federal Trade Commission has proposed changes to its 2020 privacy order with Facebook, now Meta, after making allegations last week that the company has frequently breached their agreed-upon privacy commitments.

The FTC made its third complaint against Facebook in early May for allegedly failing to safeguard user privacy.

The agency claims that Facebook misled parents regarding the level of access app developers had to private user data on its Messenger Kids app and did not protect the privacy of its minor users.

“The company’s recklessness has put young users at risk, and Facebook needs to answer for its failures,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, per the news release.

In response to the FTC’s allegations, Meta issued a statement saying that it intended to fight this “political stunt.”

“Let’s be clear about what the FTC is trying to do: usurp the authority of Congress to set industry-wide standards and instead single out one American company while allowing Chinese companies, like TikTok, to operate without constraint on American soil,” the statement read.

As prior coverage from The Dallas Express has shown, privacy concerns surrounding the popular app TikTok have led to bans or restrictions on its use by authorities in various countries.

In the U.S., lawmakers recently failed to pass a law endeavoring to institute a general ban on the app.

Meta also called out the FTC for “[providing] no opportunity to discuss this new, totally unprecedented theory,” per its statement.

The 2020 privacy order was a landmark privacy settlement between the two entities that hit Facebook with a $5 billion penalty for violating a prior privacy order from 2012.

The company was directed to expand its monitoring of third-party access to user data and to provide an independent assessor with oversight of its practices through regular audits.

Meta claimed that it has been upholding and even exceeding the 2020 privacy order, with “more than 200,000 audit hours have already been spent on the current biennial assessment,” per its recent statement.

Facebook introduced Messenger Kids in 2017 as a means for children to communicate with family members and friends only when authorized by their parents, according to AP News.

The app functions as an addendum to a parent’s account and allows parents to determine with whom their children can converse. During the app’s launch, Facebook reported that while the app would include no ads, it would collect data deemed essential for its operation.

The FTC’s latest complaint contends that this is false.

The allegation is based on “several gaps and weaknesses” the independent assessor found in Meta’s latest audit, the agency claimed.

The FTC’s proposed changes to the 2020 privacy order include:

  • A widespread ban on profiting from data collected on individuals below 18 years of age.
  • Restrictions on new uses of facial recognition technology.
  • A pause on the launch of any new products.
  • The expansion of privacy rules to partner companies like WhatsApp, Instagram, and Oculus.

The FTC has given Meta 30 days to respond to its proposed alterations to the 2020 privacy order, per the news release.

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