Advocates Tell FTC: Facebook is violating children’s privacy law

Today, CCFC and 17 other public health advocacy groups called on the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) to investigate and take action against Facebook for violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”). We filed a complaint asserting that Messenger Kids, a controversial messaging application for children as young as five, collects kids’ personal information without obtaining verifiable parental consent or providing parents with clear and complete disclosures of Facebook’s data practices. 

Messenger Kids is the first major social platform designed specifically for young children. Our FTC complaint says that Facebook’s parental consent mechanism does not meet the requirements of COPPA because it’s not reasonably calculated to ensure that the person providing consent is actually the child’s parent. Any adult user can approve any Messenger Kids account, and testing confirmed that even a fictional “parent” holding a brand-new Facebook account could immediately approve a child’s account without proof of identity.  The complaint also asserts that Facebook Messenger Kids’ privacy policy is incomplete and vague. The policy allows Facebook to disclose data to unnamed third parties and the “Facebook Family of Companies” for broad, undefined business purposes. The policy does not specify what companies are in the “Facebook Family.” COPPA requires that privacy policies list the name and contact information of any third parties who have access to children’s data. 

CCFC organized the complaint and it was drafted by the Communications & Technology Law Clinic in the Institute for Public Representation (“IPR”) at Georgetown University Law Center. “Despite Facebook’s promises to the contrary, Messenger Kids blatantly violates COPPA’s protections for children’s privacy by collecting children’s personal information without informed, verifiable parental consent,” said Jim Graves, Staff Attorney and Clinical Teaching Fellow at IPR. “In fact, Facebook’s parental verification method is similar to one the FTC rejected in 2013. The FTC should act quickly to stop Facebook’s violation of children’s privacy.”     

Earlier this year, we sent Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg a letter signed by over 100 experts and advocates, asking him to pull the plug on Messenger Kids because it undermines children’s healthy development. We also launched a petition calling on Facebook to scrap the app. 

“While evidence shows that excessive social media use negatively impacts the wellbeing of children and teens, Facebook is trying to get kids hooked at the tender age of five,” said CCFC’s Josh Golin. “They tell parents that Messenger Kids was designed to be safe for children, but they don’t even comply with the most basic privacy requirements of the law. The best choice for parents is clear: keep young kids away from Facebook.” 

Organizations which signed today’s complaint along with us were Badass Teachers Association, Centre for Child Honouring, Consumer Federation of America, Defending the Early Years, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Media Education Foundation, MomsRising/MamásConPoder, New Dream, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Parents Across America, Parents Television Council, Peace Educators Allied for Children Everywhere (P.E.A.C.E.), Public Citizen, The Story of Stuff, TRUCE (Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Childhood Entertainment), United Opt Out National, and USPIRG.

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