A pair of senators are blasting Meta Platforms over allegations that it collected personal data from “millions” of users under the age of 13.
In a letter sent Tuesday to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Senators Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) argue that allegations in a recent lawsuit by 33 attorneys general, if true, would show the company's “callous disregard” for the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). That law, which is more than 20 years old, prohibits online companies from knowingly collecting information from children younger than 13 without parental consent.
“We urge your company to cease sticking its head in the ground to purposefully evade COPPA’s critical privacy requirements,” the lawmakers write.
“The allegations in the complaint demonstrate what has been clear for years: Meta knows that millions of children under age 13 use its services,” the letter says. “Yet, Meta has not even tried to obtain informed parental consent to continue collecting data on those kids.”
The letter comes soon after large portions of the attorneys general's complaint against Meta were unsealed. The newly public material included allegations both that Meta was generally aware that many 11- and 12-year-olds were on Instagram, and that Meta knew of some specific users who were under 13.
Meta has said it prohibits users under 13 on the service. The company requires users to provide a birthdate when they sign up for accounts, and rejects users who say they are under 13. Meta has also said it deactivates accounts of users it suspects are under 13.
But the lawmakers say the company “appears to have intentionally closed its eyes to the actual age of its users.”
“If even some of these allegations are accurate, it is simply unfathomable that Meta did not have precise knowledge that millions of its users were under age 13,” they add.
They are now also asking Zuckerberg to answer a series of questions, including how Meta estimates users' ages, and how it responds to reports that specific users are under 13.
The lawmakers also argue in the letter that the allegations show COPPA should be revised. The pair has introduced legislation to expand the statute in a few ways, including by imposing liability of websites and apps have “constructive knowledge” (meaning they should know) that their products are used by children under 13, but collect data anyway.
“Given the sheer audacity of Meta’s apparent COPPA evasion, Congress must move expeditiously to pass COPPA 2.0 and strengthen children’s online privacy protections,” they write.