Open secret! Meta Platforms faces backlash over millions of underage users active on Instagram | Tech News

Open secret! Meta Platforms faces backlash over millions of underage users active on Instagram

Meta faces legal action as 33 states allege it knowingly allowed millions of underage users on Instagram, violating privacy laws. The Company could incur hefty penalties.

| Updated on: Nov 27 2023, 13:59 IST
Meta kills off Dead and Buried, Bogo, and more on Oculus Rift, Quest VR headsets
underage users and privacy violations on Instagram
1/5 As per a report by UploadVR, Meta is discontinuing 3 of its games for the Oculus Rift and Quest VR headsets - Dead and Buried, Dead and Buried II, and Bogo. All three games will not be supported after March 15, 2024. (Bloomberg)
underage users and privacy violations on Instagram
2/5 Meta sent out notices to the owners of these games via email. Meta’s policy requires it to inform game owners 180 days in advance before shutting down games. The company has also removed them from the Oculus store and they cannot be purchased from now on. This development comes after Meta shut down another popular Oculus game, Echo VR, in February. (REUTERS)
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3/5 Dead and Buried - Dead and Buried is a Western multiplayer shooter where you are put in a world full of gunslingers and ghosts in Dead and Buried. Players can live out their Wild West fantasies such as robbing a train, dueling with other players, or team up and take on hordes of creatures. (Meta store)
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4/5 Dead and Buried II - A sequel to 2016’s Dead and Buried, Dead and Buried II takes the Western gunslinging of the previous game and dials it up a notch. Players can choose from 6 gunslingers in this multiplayer action shooter to become the best gunslinger in the Wild West, while also battling it out against the undead. (Meta store)
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5/5 Bogo - Bogo is a single-player virtual pet simulator featuring a scaling play area. Players can create their pets, and nurture them, with available actions such as feeding them, giving them belly rubs, and more. (Meta store)
underage users and privacy violations on Instagram
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Meta Platforms faces legal firestorm as states allege it knowingly concealed millions of underage users and privacy violations on Instagram. (Pexels)

In a newly unsealed legal complaint, 33 states allege that Meta Platforms, the parent company of Instagram, Facebook and others, knowingly allowed millions of users under the age of 13 on its platform while only disabling a bunch of the reported accounts. The complaint accuses Meta of violating federal children's privacy laws by collecting their personal information, such as locations and email addresses, without parental consent. The court filing asserts that within Meta, the awareness of underage users is an "open secret," meticulously documented and shielded from public disclosure. The company could potentially face significant civil penalties, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, if the allegations are proven.

Legal Battle and Company Response

These privacy charges are part of a broader federal lawsuit filed by 34 states, including California and Colorado, accusing Meta Platforms of unfairly trapping young users on Instagram and Facebook while concealing internal studies highlighting user harm. The lawsuit aims to compel Meta to cease using features that allegedly harm young users, The New York Times reported.

In response, Meta expressed disappointment, emphasising its commitment to online teen safety and highlighting the introduction of over 30 tools to support youths and their families. The company criticised the attorneys general for not collaborating with the industry to establish clear, age-appropriate standards for teen app usage.

The legal scrutiny intensified after former Meta employee Frances Haugen, a whistleblower, disclosed internal documents in late 2021. Haugen's revelations included claims that the company knowingly targeted vulnerable young users to enhance profits. Internal studies at Instagram, presented by Haugen to Congress, indicated that many adolescent girls using the platform experienced depression and anxiety related to body-image issues.

Meta, along with Snap, TikTok, and Google, is currently facing numerous lawsuits linking their platforms to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and sleeplessness in adolescents and young adults. The companies argue against the lawsuits, contending that they improperly seek to regulate content, according to a Bloomberg report.

Growing pressure from lawmakers to shield young users from harmful content has led to increased interest in technologies like age estimation for age verification. However, privacy groups raise concerns about the untested nature of such technologies and data security issues. Laws requiring age verification on social media and adult websites have faced First Amendment challenges in courts.

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First Published Date: 27 Nov, 13:50 IST