Meta Faces Federal Lawsuit Over Children's Online Privacy and Mental Health Concerns

Meta, the tech giant behind Facebook and Instagram, is embroiled in a federal lawsuit for allegedly violating children's privacy laws and contributing to a youth mental health crisis in the US.

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Listen to this article:

  • Meta accused in federal court of violating children's privacy law

  • Allegations include knowingly keeping accounts of children under 13

  • Concerns raised about the harmful impact of Meta's platforms on youth mental health

Meta's Legal Challenges Over Child Privacy

In a significant legal development, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, is facing a multi-state lawsuit alleging a pattern of deception and minimization regarding how the company handles children under 13 on its platforms. The lawsuit, which includes the attorneys general of 42 states, accuses Meta of violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), specifically in how it collects and uses personal information from children without parental consent.

The Scope of Allegations and Meta's Response

Meta's approach to underage accounts has been more laissez-faire than publicly claimed. The company has been tracking and documenting underage users (under-13s) for years. For instance, in 2018, it noted that 20% of 12-year-olds on Instagram used it daily. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, received a report in the same year indicating that approximately 4 million people under 13 were on Instagram in 2015. Despite this, Meta has consistently stated that it does not allow kids on its platforms and has worked to remove them.

In response to the lawsuit, Meta claimed that the suit mischaracterizes their work and stated that verifying the age of online users is a complex challenge. They assert having measures in place to remove accounts of users under 13 when identified.

Mental Health Concerns and Meta's Platform

The lawsuit also highlights internal concerns at Meta about the potential harmful effects of its platforms on children. Allegations suggest that the company has ignored reports of underage accounts and continued to collect personal information from these users. In 2021, out of 402,000 reports of accounts owned by users under 13, fewer than 164,000 were disabled. Meta's internal studies and third-party research also indicate significant usage of Facebook and Instagram by children ages 9-12, raising concerns about compliance with COPPA and the impact on youth mental health.

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