Meta’s Open Secret: Millions of Underage Users, According to States

Meta has received more than 1.1 million reports of users under the age of 13 on its Instagram platform since early 2019, “disabled only a fraction” of those accounts, in violation of a federal children’s privacy law, according to a newly unsealed legal complaint against the company brought by the attorneys general of 33 states. Meta could face hundreds of millions of dollars, or more, in civil penalties should the states prove the allegations.

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. It also accused Meta executives of publicly stating in congressional testimony that the company’s age-checking process was effective and that the company removed underage accounts when it learned of them, even as the executives knew there were millions of underage users on Instagram.

In response, Meta said it had spent a decade working to make online experiences safe and age-appropriate for teenagers. The company noted that Instagram’s terms of use prohibit users under the age of 13 in the United States, and said it had “measures in place to remove these accounts when we identify them.”

The lawsuit argues that Meta elected not to build systems to effectively detect and exclude such underage users because it viewed children as a crucial demographic that the company needed to capture to assure continued growth. Meta also knew about accounts belonging to specific underage Instagram users through company reporting channels, yet “automatically” ignored certain reports of users under 13 and allowed them to continue using their accounts as long as the accounts did not contain a user biography or photos.

In 2019, the company agreed to pay a record $5 billion, and to alter its data practices, to settle charges from the Federal Trade Commission of deceiving users about their ability to control their privacy.

It may easier for the states to pursue Meta for children’s privacy violations than to prove that the company encouraged compulsive social media use among young people. Since 2019, the F.T.C. has successfully brought similar children’s privacy complaints against tech giants including Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Epic Games.

News

Moms Managing Girl Influencers: A Marketplace Stalked by Men

Elissa began receiving threatening messages early last year from a person calling themselves “Instamodelfan” targeting her daughter’s Instagram account. Despite having over 100,000 followers, the account has been under scrutiny for potentially exploiting children in exchange for money. However, the issue runs deeper than that. Research from The New York Times found that the platform […]

Read More
News

Insights from The Times’s Investigation of Child Influencers

Instagram maintains the 13-year-old minimum age for accounts, but parents can take control, largely for their daughters’ ambitions to become influencers. Parents initiate their child’s modeling career or gain favor from clothing brands, but a dark subculture emerges, controlled by men attracted to minors, as per The New York Times. The emergence of mom-run profiles […]

Read More
News

Rising Threat: China’s Growing Cyber Espionage and the New Vulnerability

Beijing’s Networks Expanding Hacking Efforts China has spread its hacking reach with new tools that exploit computer vulnerabilities and a network of contracted vendors. The large scale of China’s hacking operations poses a significant threat, with the FBI reporting China’s hacking program to be larger than all major nations combined. The U.S. has tracked consistent […]

Read More