How Meta’s Lack of Transparency Harms the Younger Generation
A recently unsealed court complaint alleged Meta, the parent company behind social media platforms including Instagram and Facebook, deliberately designed its platforms to foster addiction in children and knowingly allowed underage users to have accounts.
Over the past decade, Meta has reshaped the psychological and societal truths for young adults, with some arguing that it has done more harm than good. Most recently, Meta has come under fire after an unsealed court complaint revealed that the social media giant designed its platforms to “entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare” young adults and children.
Similar to numerous large corporations, the complaint portrayed Meta as motivated by profit, which allowed the company to ignore significant risks linked to social media and exploit the most vulnerable consumers, specifically children and young adults. According to the complaint, 22 million teens scroll through Instagram daily. These users play a crucial role in ensuring the success of these social media platforms, as Meta and advertisers found young people to “be influenced by advertisements, become lifelong customers, set trends that the rest of society emulates.”
Meta derives the majority of its revenue from targeted advertising— ads that are analytically crafted from users’ digital footprint and information. In January 2019, Meta’s CFO David Wehner described growing the company’s targeted advertisement model as “working to develop the best products we can to enable advertisers to achieve their end business results. Targeting obviously is very important in that”.
The social media platform was designed as an “engagement-based” model to primarily attract young people, aiming to hold their attention for as long as possible. This is further amplified through the platform’s features, including infinite scrolls, push notifications, ephemeral content, and video-based content. By abandoning a chronological feed structure, Meta ensures that users’ content can be refreshed indefinitely, maximizing screen time and keeping young adults glued to an online society.
Meta’s hundreds of billions of dollars empire depends on these young users, despite the fact that there have been 1.1 million reports of users under the age of 13 on its Instagram platform since early 2019, yet only a “fraction” of those accounts were disabled. Yet, the leading social media enterprise routinely collected the personal information of minors, including their location history, without obtaining parental consent—thus violating federal children’s privacy laws, as stated in the court filing.
Meta asserts that its top priority is user well-being, and its social media platforms were meticulously crafted to be age-appropriate for young users. In contrast, young users engage with the platforms without awareness that Meta is gathering significant amounts of personal data to refine its “Recommendation Algorithms.” To make matters worse, Meta lacks an official method to verify a user’s age and instead relies on “trained technology” to estimate users to be over the required age of 13. Regardless of Meta’s intentions, the personal information of users under the age of 13 is consistently collected.
Transparency is Essential in the World of Technology
Many social media companies face public and regulatory pressure to increase transparency about how their products collect and store personal information. Edward Snowden, a former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor turned surveillance whistleblower, highlighted the resemblance between data collection and data privacy models of the NSA and Facebook.
While some companies are transparent about their data practices, the majority opt to keep consumers uninformed by prioritizing data control over technological transparency.
The fact is that the collection and utilization of data have a distinct impact on children, according to Comparative Perspectives on Digital Transformations in Law and Society.
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England wrote in a 2018 report that “more data about children is collected today than ever before.” This has been amplified by the ever-growing inclusion of smart devices in the home, social media platforms, smart toys, and location-tracking devices. Unlike adults, children lack control over the utilization of their data, and access to a child’s personal information gives rise to highly dangerous situations.
In the current legal and regulatory approaches, the focus is frequently on data privacy after its collection. Therefore, as society advances deeper into the technological era, the demand for transparency in data usage becomes imperative.