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Is Meta Tracking Children Online to Use Its Platforms?

Meta, the parent company of popular social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, is facing accusations related to its alleged pursuit of children under the age of 13 to use its platforms. Despite Meta’s assertions regarding its commitment to safeguarding children on its platform, a recently unsealed complaint contends that the company actively sought the engagement of individuals under the age of 13, violating existing regulations.

The tech giant knows that substantial number of individuals below the age of 13 heavily desire to use platforms like Instagram. The complaint suggests that Meta failed to effectively disable accounts belonging to underage users even after their discovery. Furthermore, the company is accused of continuing to collect data from these accounts without obtaining proper parental consent.

Meta Tracking Children Online is an Open Secret

According to the complaint, Meta’s internal knowledge about millions of Instagram users being under the age of 13 is described as an “open secret” within the company. The document alleges that this information is systematically documented, rigorously analyzed, and intentionally kept confidential from the public.

The complaint indicated that Meta received over 1.1 million reports of under-13 users on Instagram between 2019 and 2023. Despite this, the company allegedly disabled only a fraction of these accounts, persistently collecting children’s data without obtaining proper parental consent. The documents also assert that Meta actively seeks children both for immediate financial gain and with a long-term objective of retaining these users as they grow old to foster continued engagement with its platforms.

The Tech Giant Responds

In response to these accusations, Meta issued a statement to the media, asserting that Instagram prohibits users under the age of 13 and has measures in place to remove such accounts upon identification. The statement also highlighted the challenges associated with verifying the age of individuals online, particularly those under 13, who may not possess official identification.

Meta emphasized its support for federal legislation requiring app stores to obtain parental approval for teens under 16 downloading apps. The company believes that this approach would streamline the age verification process without requiring individuals, especially those under 13, to provide sensitive information such as government IDs to numerous apps.

This development unfolds against a backdrop of growing concerns about the impact of social media on children, with Meta’s own research released in 2021 acknowledging that Instagram can be harmful to a significant percentage of teenagers, particularly young girls.

Controversial Activities Regarding Kids

Meta has been embroiled in a number of controversies related to its use of data and its impact on children. In 2019, a report revealed that Facebook had been tracking the location of its users without their consent. The report found that Facebook was using location data to target users with ads, even if they had turned off location tracking. This raised concerns about Facebook’s privacy practices and its potential to harm children.

In 2021, a whistleblower named Frances Haugen leaked a trove of internal documents from Facebook that revealed the company’s knowledge of the harmful impacts of its products on children. The documents showed that Facebook was aware that its platforms were being used to spread misinformation, promote eating disorders, and exploit children. This led to calls for greater regulation of social media companies and for Meta to take more responsibility for the safety of its users.

Quite recently, in 2022, a Wall Street Journal report found that Facebook had been targeting children as young as 6 with ads for weight loss products and cosmetic surgery. The report also alleged that Facebook was using algorithms to show children more ads that were likely to upset or anger them. This raised concerns about Facebook’s exploitation of children and its potential to harm their mental health.

These are just a few examples of the many controversies that Meta has faced in recent years. The company has been repeatedly criticized for its handling of user data, its impact on children, and its role in spreading misinformation. While it has made some changes to its policies in response to these criticisms, but it remains to be seen whether these changes will be enough to address the company’s underlying problems.

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