Federal Trade Commission tries to bar Meta from monetizing teens’ data

The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday announced a plan to bar Facebook parent company Meta from monetizing the data of children and teens under the age of 18, citing allegations that the company misled parents about their ability to control their children’s communications in its Messenger Kids app.

The agency is seeking to update a landmark 2020 privacy settlement with Meta, which it says the company has already violated. The $5 billion order required the company to keep close watch over how third-party companies accessed users’ data and submit to regular privacy audits.

The FTC alleges that the company continued to give app developers’ access to users’ private information, after it promised to cut off access in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, which revealed the political consultancy improperly gained access to the data of millions of Facebook users.

FTC Chair Lina Khan (D), a prominent tech industry critic, has promised to use the agency’s tools to more strictly monitor whether big companies are adhering to privacy agreements with the agency. Many Democrats criticized the FTC’s historic $5 billion settlement following Cambridge Analytica for not being tough enough. Now with a 3-0 majority at the agency, the party is newly emboldened to pursue tougher penalties.

The announcement comes as policymakers from both parties grow increasingly concerned about the impact of social media on children and teens. On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of senators revived multiple bills aimed at protecting kids and teens online.

Under the FTC’s new proposal, Meta would only be allowed to collect and use data about users under the age of 18 to provide services or for security purposes. It would not be able to use that data for commercial gain. The company would also be barred from launching new products or services until after they get a written assessment that they’re fully complying with the company’s privacy program. The rules would apply to any company that Meta acquires, including in virtual reality.

The announcement is just the first step in an administrative process to modify the 2020 order. Meta will have 30 days to respond to the agency’s plan.

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