At Meta, millions of underage users were an ‘open secret,’ states say

At Meta, millions of underage users were an ‘open secret,’ states say

The New York Times reports:

Meta has received more than 1.1 million reports of users under the age of 13 on its Instagram platform since early 2019 yet it “disabled only a fraction” of those accounts, according to a newly unsealed legal complaint against the company brought by the attorneys general of 33 states.

Instead, the social media giant “routinely continued to collect” children’s personal information, like their locations and email addresses, without parental permission, in violation of a federal children’s privacy law, according to the court filing. Meta could face hundreds of millions of dollars, or more, in civil penalties should the states prove the allegations.

“Within the company, Meta’s actual knowledge that millions of Instagram users are under the age of 13 is an open secret that is routinely documented, rigorously analyzed and confirmed,” the complaint said, “and zealously protected from disclosure to the public.”

The privacy charges are part of a larger federal lawsuit, filed last month by California, Colorado and 31 other states in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The lawsuit accuses Meta of unfairly ensnaring young people on its Instagram and Facebook platforms while concealing internal studies showing user harms. And it seeks to force Meta to stop using certain features that the states say have harmed young users.

But much of the evidence cited by the states was blacked out by redactions in the initial filing.

Now the unsealed complaint, filed on Wednesday evening, provides new details from the states’ lawsuit. Using snippets from internal emails, employee chats and company presentations, the complaint contends that Instagram for years “coveted and pursued” underage users even as the company “failed” to comply with the children’s privacy law. [Continue reading…]

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