FTC says Meta misled parents and failed to protect children using Facebook's Messenger Kids app

FTC says Meta misled parents and failed to protect children using Facebook's Messenger Kids app
The Federal Trade Commission alleged Meta violated a 2020 privacy order with its policies regarding the Messenger Kids app.Hakan Nural / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
  • The FTC said Wednesday that Meta violated a 2020 privacy agreement with practices around its Messenger Kids app.
  • Parents allegedly did not have as much control as advertised over who their kids talked to.

The Federal Trade Commission said Meta violated a 2020 privacy order by misleading parents and failing to protect children using Facebook's Messenger Kids app.

The FTC proposed a series of changes to the order on Wednesday after the agency claimed Meta mishandled data collected from the app, including a ban on the company's ability to monetize data collected from its products, including virtual reality, from users under age 18. The initial 2020 order led to a $5 billion settlement with Facebook and called for an expanded privacy program.

The proposed changes would slow Meta's ability to release new products until they are confirmed to meet the privacy requirements, while also limiting the company's future ability to use facial recognition technology.

Complimentary Tech Event
Transform talent with learning that works
Capability development is critical for businesses who want to push the envelope of innovation.Discover how business leaders are strategizing around building talent capabilities and empowering employee transformation.Know More

The agency claimed Meta misled parents about their ability to control who children communicate with through Messenger Kids, as some were able to talk to unapproved contacts through group messages. It also alleged that Meta shared certain user data with third-party app developers long after it said it would stop in 2018.

"Facebook has repeatedly violated its privacy promises," said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "The company's recklessness has put young users at risk, and Facebook needs to answer for its failures."


A Meta spokesperson told Insider in a statement that the proposal is "a political stunt."

"Despite three years of continual engagement with the FTC around our agreement, they provided no opportunity to discuss this new, totally unprecedented theory," the spokesperson said. "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."

The statement continued: "FTC Chair Lina Khan's insistence on using any measure — however baseless — to antagonize American business has reached a new low. We have spent vast resources building and implementing an industry-leading privacy program under the terms of our FTC agreement. We will vigorously fight this action and expect to prevail."

The FTC's statement says Meta has 30 days to respond to the agency's findings, and they will determine whether to implement the changes in the order at a later date.

A group of childcare experts and advocates said in 2018 that the Messenger Kids app was satisfying a nonexistent need, and instead trying to "target" younger children who likely do not yet have other social media, according to The Associated Press.