The Federal Trade Commission is currently investigating Facebook over at least one privacy snafu -- allowing Cambridge Analytica to harvest data from up to 87 million unsuspecting users.
But that mess -- which could result in billions in fines -- may not be Facebook's only problem with regulators. It recently came to light that Facebook appears to have knowingly tricked children into running up their parents' credit card charges while playing games like Angry Birds. Today, a coalition of advocacy groups called on the FTC to investigate the social media platform over those allegations.
“Facebook’s internal documents indicate a callous disregard for young people and a culture that prioritized profits over people,” a coalition of watchdogs including Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Center for Digital Democracy and Consumer Federation of America say in a new letter to the FTC.
The groups are calling for regulators to investigate whether Facebook engaged in an unfair practice by charging children for purchases made without parental permission or awareness, and whether the company violated children's privacy laws.
This latest request for an FTC probe stems from a lawsuit settled in 2016. Several court documents from that lawsuit were unsealed last month, at the request of The Center for Public Integrity. Those documents revealed that Facebook encouraged developers to allow kids to make in-app purchases while playing games.
In a newly unsealed internal Facebook email, one employee refers to a child who racked up $6,000 in charges as a “whale” -- jargon for a big spender.
“Facebook’s exploitative practices targeted a population universally recognized as vulnerable -- young people,” the advocates write. “These teens and children were just trying to play games, and without realizing it, they could have charged hundreds or even thousands of dollars on their parents’ credit cards.”
The advocates also want the FTC to investigate whether Facebook violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits website operators from knowingly collecting personal data from children.
“The unsealed documents show that Facebook was aware that many of the games it offered were popular with children under age 13, and that these games were in fact being played by children under 13,” the Center for a Commercial-Free Childhood and other watchdogs allege. “Given the scale of the fraud, and the extent to which Facebook has been less than straightforward regarding its data policies in the past, we urge the FTC to investigate what personal information Facebook has collected from children, whether it has promptly deleted the information it did collect, whether it has removed accounts established by children under 13, and whether it has taken steps to ensure that in the future, no personal information from children will be collected, used or disseminated without complying with all of the COPPA provisions.”