FTC pushes to ban Meta from profiting from children’s data

On Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission proposed sweeping changes to how Meta operates, accusing the company of violating a number of child protection protections, including the Children̵[ads1]7;s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

In a press release, the agency alleged that Meta violated a 2020 privacy order it had reached with the agency to resolve its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The motion cites cases where the company misled parents about the extent of their abilities to control who their children communicate with over services like Messenger Kids and misrepresented the access the company gives third-party app developers to private user data.

“Facebook has repeatedly broken its privacy promises,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Consumer Protection Bureau. “The company’s recklessness has put young users at risk, and Facebook must answer for its mistakes.”

The FTC’s proposed changes would prohibit Meta, Facebook and the rest of the company’s properties from monetizing the data of children under 18. It would also prevent the company from launching new products or services without the green light from an independent privacy assessment and would require explicit user consent for any new use of facial recognition technology.

These new rules will apply to Facebook and Meta’s other platforms, including Instagram, Oculus and WhatsApp. It will also cover any new companies Meta may merge with in the future.

In response to the FTC’s Wednesday proposal, Meta spokesperson Andy Stone called it a “political stunt,” and accused the agency of trying to “usurp Congress’ authority to set industry standards.” Later in the day, Meta published a longer version of the response on the company’s blog, writing: “None of these issues warrant the drastic changes the FTC is seeking just three years into our decade-long agreement — and that the FTC lacks the unilateral authority to impose.”

“FTC Chairman Lina Khan’s insistence on using any measure — no matter how baseless — to discourage American business has reached a new low,” Stone said in a statement to The Verge Wednesday. “We will vigorously fight this action and expect to prevail.”

Despite voting to move forward with the proposal, Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya issued a statement casting doubt on the FTC’s authority to amend its orders in this manner. “I look forward to hearing further information and arguments and will consider these issues with an open mind,” he said.

The alleged breaches arose from an independent assessment of Meta’s privacy protections. The evaluator was first implemented after the 2020 order and was set to assess whether Meta’s privacy protections met the FTC’s standards. According to the FTC, the assessor identified several gaps and weaknesses in the company’s privacy practices.

The FTC’s proposal is just the first step in a process to increase Meta’s privacy and security practices. According to Wednesday’s press release, the FTC has asked Meta to respond within 30 days to its findings and proposal. After receiving Meta’s response, the agency would vote on whether to amend or adopt the proposed rules.

Update May 5 at 12:45 p.m. ET: Added link to Meta’s full response.

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