The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday proposed a series of restrictions on Meta after an independent assessor found "several gaps and weaknesses in Facebook's privacy program."
The restrictions would ban Meta, which owns Facebook, from profiting off the data collected from users who are under 18 years old. It is the third time the agency has taken action against the company for allegedly violating users’ privacy.
“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.”
The FTC’s move extends concerns over how the social media giant courts children. Instagram, another Meta company, had been developing a version for kids under 13 until public scrutiny pushed the company to table the project in late 2021.
The FTC proposal also seeks to stop the company from releasing new products without approval from the independent privacy assessor and to put limits on the company’s use of facial recognition technology.
A spokesperson for Meta said the move was "a political stunt" and that the company had been given no opportunity to respond to the allegations.
“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 Tik Tok, to operate without constraint on American soil," the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
"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 spokesperson added.
The FTC settled with Facebook in 2019 over broader privacy concerns, with the company paying a $5 billion penalty. In 2020, Facebook agreed to a privacy program that included an independent assessor that would submit privacy reports about the company's products.
The FTC said Wednesday that the assessor "identified several gaps and weaknesses in Facebook’s privacy program," which the FTC found to "pose substantial risks to the public."
Among those gaps was an issue with the security controls in the Messenger Kids product, which the FTC said had allowed children in some instances to communicate with unapproved contacts in group text chats and group video calls.
A flaw identified in 2019 allowed thousands of strangers to enter group chats, The Verge originally reported.
The FTC also said the assessor found that the company had continued to give app developers access to users' private information — sometimes as late as mid-2020 — despite promises to cut off such access.
Meta has 30 days to respond to the findings.
The FTC's proposal would modify the 2020 order, though FTC Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya, said in a letter that he is unsure of the commission's authority to modity the order to stop Facebook from monetizing the data of users under the age of 18.