An unsealed complaint in a lawsuit filed against Meta by 33 states alleges that the company is not only aware that children under the age of 13 use its platforms, but has also “coveted and pursued” this demographic for years on Instagram. The document, which was first seen by The New York Times, claims that Meta has long been dishonest about how it handles underage user accounts when they are discovered, often failing to disable them when reported, and continuing to collect their data.
The newly unsealed complaint, filed Wednesday, reveals arguments that were previously drafted when attorneys general across the United States first attacked Meta with the lawsuit last month in federal court in California. He alleges that the presence of minors under 13 years of age is an “open secret” in Meta. While Facebook and Instagram policies state that a person must be at least 13 years old to sign up, children can easily lie about their age, something the lawsuit says Meta is well aware of and has done little to stop. Instead, when Meta “received more than 1.1 million reports from users under the age of 13 on Instagram” between 2019 and 2023, it “disabled only a fraction of those accounts and continued to routinely collect data from children without the consent of the parents,” the complaint says.
Meta “routinely violates” the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) by targeting children and collecting their information without parental consent, according to the complaint. The lawsuit also argues that Meta platforms manipulate young users into spending unhealthy amounts of time on the apps, promote body dysmorphia, and expose them to potentially harmful content. When the lawsuit was first filed in October, a Meta spokesperson said the company was “disappointed” by the chosen course of action, stating: “We share the attorneys general’s commitment to providing teens with safe and positive experiences in line”.
Meta earlier this month published a blog post calling for federal legislation to give more responsibility to parents when it comes to children’s app downloads. Meta’s global head of safety, Antigone Davis, proposed a requirement for parents to have approval power over downloads by children under 16.