An undisclosed complaint in a lawsuit filed against Meta by thirty-three states states that not only does the company know that its platforms are used by children under the age of 13, but that it has been deliberately targeting this group of users on Instagram for years. The document, which was first brought to the attention of The New York Times, alleges that Meta has a long history of unethically dealing with the accounts of underage users. When such accounts are discovered, they often don’t take them down after reporting them and continue to collect their data.
The complaint alleges that the presence of children under the age of 13 on Instagram is an “open secret” at Meta. Although Facebook and Instagram’s rules state that a person must be over 13 to register, children can easily lie about their age — which Meta is well aware of, according to the lawsuit, and didn’t do much to prevent. Instead, when Meta “received more than 1.1 million reports of users under the age of 13 on Instagram between 2019-2023,” it “banned only a fraction of those accounts and routinely continued to collect children’s data without parental consent,” the lawsuit says .
According to the complaint, Meta “routinely violates” the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) by targeting children and collecting their data without parental consent. The lawsuit also alleges that Meta’s platforms manipulate young users and try to get them to spend an unhealthy amount of time on apps.
Meta published a blog post earlier this month calling for federal legislation that would put more responsibility on parents when it comes to children’s app use.