A coalition of consumer-interest and privacy organizations has written to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for a second time demanding the company’s “Messenger Kids” program be shuttered along with its “child-targeted operations.”
Documents that have come to light as a result of a lawsuit over Facebook’s business practices show something very troubling, they write.
“The documents appear to demonstrate that Facebook is willing to cause actual harm to children and families in its quest for profit,” the new letter tells Zuckerberg.
“As such, Facebook is unfit to make any platform or product for children, especially one like Messenger Kids, which gives Facebook unfettered access to kids’ relationships, conversations, and private moments with friends and family.”
The letter was signed by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Common Sense, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Parents Across America, Parents Television Council and many other groups.
It notes that one year ago, more than 100 groups sent a letter urging the discontinuation of Messenger Kids.
“Shortly after, we sent you a petition signed by more than 21,000 people urging you to end the app. Now, in light of the Center for Investigative Report’s revelation that Facebook knowingly and intentionally defrauded kids into spending millions of dollars over several years, we write again to demand that you immediately shut down Facebook’s Messenger Kids, and cease all child-targeted business operations.
“Our 2018 letter presented research linking adolescent social media use with depression, poor sleep habits and unhealthy body image. We asked why, given this research, Facebook was targeting children as young as five, who are even less equipped to navigate the challenges and harms of social media. We pointed out that parents are more concerned with kids’ screen time than ever, and warned that Messenger Kids would make families’ lives more challenging by giving young children a powerful incentive to move their relationships online.”
The new letter adds another concern: “Facebook’s intentionally exploitative motivations and business practices regarding children. These practices, which include viewing children as easy marks to be mined for profit, make it clear that Facebook is unfit to create platforms or products for kids.”
The letter cites the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s publication of Facebook documents that “appear to demonstrate that Facebook used games to knowingly defraud children and their parents out of money, for as much as several thousand dollars per family.”
The report showed children were spending money on online games without parental permission and “in some cases unintentionally,” but Facebook was refusing to provide refunds, because “doing so would hurt revenue.”
“To get their money back, parents had no choice but to initiate chargebacks with their credit card companies or take legal action. In one 3-month period from 2010-2011, children spent $3.6 million on Facebook games, and more than 9% of that money was charged back. This is well above both the .5% industry average and the 2% threshold the FTC considers a flag for deceptive business practices.”
The documents show that over years, “Facebook knowingly defrauded kids and families out of millions of dollars.”
The letter also spotlighted Facebook’s attitude.
“Facebook employees referred to kids who spent large amounts of money as ‘whales,’ a casino-industry term for super high rollers. The practice of a child unintentionally make a purchase was deemed ‘friendly fraud,’ and Facebook managers encouraged developers to not take steps to prevent it, instead suggesting they pocket the revenue and offer defrauded players ‘virtual items’ in lieu of a refund.”
The company even acted deliberately to prevent a solution to the fraud, the letter says.
“Technological solutions to prevent unintentional purchases by children were rejected because they would threaten revenue.”
Last year the groups called on the company to shut down Messenger Kids.
Earlier this month, some of the same groups urged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Facebook for “unfair and deceptive trade practices.”