Judge Sides With FTC In Fight With Meta Over Teens' Data

A federal judge on Monday rejected Meta Platforms' request to block the Federal Trade Commission from proceeding with an attempt to prohibit the company from monetizing minors' data. 

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly in Washington, D.C., who approved a settlement between the FTC and Meta in 2020, said in a written ruling that he lacked jurisdiction to intervene in the current dispute.

Unless a higher court gets involved, Kelly's decision means the FTC and Meta will face off at an administrative hearing over the proposed modifications to the 2020 settlement.

A Meta spokesperson says the company is considering its legal options and “will continue to vigorously fight the FTC's unlawful attempt to unilaterally rewrite our agreement.”

The ruling grew out of a dispute dating to May, when the FTC proposed prohibiting Meta from using minors' data to fuel ad targeting or algorithms.



Specifically, the FTC proposed to modify a 2020 consent decree stemming from charges that Meta allowed Cambridge Analytica and other outside developers to access users' data. The consent decree required Meta to pay $5 billion, and also called for the company to implement new privacy oversight and obtain an independent assessment.

The agency sought to impose additional terms on Meta this May, alleging in a new administrative filing that an evaluator had identified “several gaps and weaknesses” in the company's privacy program, and that between 2017 and 2019, Meta's Messenger Kids had coding errors that allowed children to communicate with people who hadn't been approved by parents, in violation of representations about the feature.

The FTC claimed those glitches violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act -- which requires companies to obtain parental permission before collecting personal information of children under 13 -- and partially justified the proposed modifications.

At the time, Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya expressed concerns over whether the agency has authority for the proposed modifications.

Also at the time, a Meta spokesperson called the FTC's move a “political stunt,” and said the FTC was trying to “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.”

Several weeks after the FTC proposed the new terms, Meta petitioned Kelly to stop the FTC from proceeding. The company argued that only a court -- not the FTC itself -- can order revisions to the consent decree, which Kelly approved in April of 2020.

Kelly said in his ruling Monday that even though Meta's agreement with the FTC was attached as an exhibit to the judgment he approved, he didn't retain jurisdiction over the agreement.

A Meta spokesperson noted that Kelly didn't address the FTC's substantive allegations, which he said were “without merit.”

“By the end of this year, we will have invested $5 billion since 2019 in a rigorous privacy program that has embedded privacy into our products from the start. We will continue to invest in our privacy program and remain focused on protecting people’s privacy,” the spokesperson stated. 

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