Facebook Messenger Kids App Deemed Privacy Risk, Say U.S. Regulators

Messenger Kids

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has proposed changes to its 2020 privacy order with Facebook, alleging that the social media giant failed to comply with the order and misled parents regarding the control they had over their children’s Messenger Kids app communication.

The FTC also accused Facebook of misrepresenting the access it provided to certain app developers regarding private user data.

“Facebook has repeatedly violated its privacy promises. 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.

The proposed changes would prevent Meta, formerly known as Facebook, from profiting from data collected from users under 18 years old. The company would also face expanded limitations and be required to provide additional protections for users, including limits on facial recognition technology usage.

The Messenger Kids app is widely available in Canada and beyond for iOS and Android users. The app has limitations on what a child can do while parents are also able to monitor summaries of interactions in weekly updates.

This marks the third time the FTC has taken action against Facebook for alleged privacy protection failures. The Commission first filed a complaint against the company in 2011, resulting in a 2012 order prohibiting Facebook from misrepresenting its privacy practices. The 2020 privacy order required Facebook to pay a $5 billion civil penalty and implement stronger privacy and security measures.

The proposed changes would affect Facebook and Meta’s other services, including Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus.

The company would be prohibited from monetizing data from children and teens under 18 and required to obtain users’ affirmative consent for any future use of facial recognition technology. Other privacy program provisions in the 2020 order would be strengthened, and Meta’s reporting obligations would be expanded.

Meta has been given 30 days to respond to the FTC’s proposed findings, but it has already shot back in a scathing statement to ArsTechnica.

A Meta spokesperson said the FTC changes proposed are “a political stunt.” Meta had “no opportunity to discuss this new, totally unprecedented theory.”

“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,” said Meta’s spokesperson, not holding back. “FTC Chair Lina Khan’s insistence on using any measure—however baseless—to antagonize American business has reached a new low.”

It’s unclear what this outcome will be as Meta goes heads up against the FTC, but get that popcorn ready, folks.