Meta, the parent company of social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, is facing serious allegations in an ongoing federal lawsuit. Unsealed court documents reveal that since at least 2019, Meta has been accused of knowingly allowing accounts belonging to children under the age of 13 to remain active while collecting their personal information without parental consent.
This revelation comes amid growing concerns over online privacy and the protection of minors on social media.
Reports of Underage Users and Legal Implications
Attorneys general from 33 states have brought forth accusations against Meta, stating that the company received over a million reports of underage users on Instagram from various sources, including parents and community members, between early 2019 and mid-2023.
Despite these reports, Meta allegedly disabled only a fraction of these accounts. This action, or lack thereof, forms the basis of the complaint. The lawsuit, encompassing 54 counts, asserts that Meta has violated a range of state-based consumer protection statutes and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA).
COPPA prohibits companies from collecting personal information from children under 13 without parental consent. The court document highlights that Meta's records reveal Instagram's significant underage user base, with "millions of children under the age of 13" and "hundreds of thousands of teen users" spending extensive time on the platform.
Meta’s Response and the Challenge of Age Verification
However, Meta acknowledges the complexity of verifying the age of online users, especially those without identification. Meta's statement to CNN emphasized its support for federal legislation requiring app stores to obtain parental approval for app downloads by teens under 16.
This approach, according to Meta, would alleviate the need for providing sensitive information, such as government IDs, for age verification. As the lawsuit progresses, it brings to light significant concerns regarding online privacy, the protection of minors, and the responsibilities of tech giants in policing their platforms.
With potential civil penalties amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, this case could set a precedent in how social media companies handle underage users and data privacy.