Letter Text (PDF)

Washington (September 27, 2023) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and author of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA), sent a letter today to Mark Zuckerberg, chairman and chief executive officer of Meta, urging him to pause the company’s plan to integrate artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots into its social media platforms to attract and retain younger users. Senator Markey’s letter follows Meta’s announcement earlier today that it would launch a series of AI chatbots on its platforms.

Specifically, the AI chatbots could create new privacy harms and exacerbate those currently prevalent on the platform, including invasive data collection, algorithmic discrimination, and targeted advertisements. Research has shown that targeted advertising is addictive, manipulative, and misleading for children and teens who are still developing their cognitive skills. In 2019, Facebook launched its Messenger Kids app for kids between the ages of 6 and 12, which allowed them to bypass protections and talk to strangers.

In his letter to Zuckerberg, Senator Markey wrote, “Although artificial intelligence has recently attracted significant attention in Washington, AI-powered algorithms — and their risks — are nothing new. For years, Meta and other social media platforms have employed algorithms to collect vast amounts of user data, build precise user profiles, and target users with advertising. These black box algorithms have caused serious harms — from collecting and storing detailed personal information to facilitating housing discrimination against communities of color.”

Given Meta’s past violation of young users’ privacy rights, Senator Markey requested answers to the following questions by October 18, 2023:

  1. Please describe Meta’s plans for introducing chatbots into its services, including any efforts to encourage younger users to use the chatbots.
  2. Please describe Meta’s plans to collect data from users of its chatbots and how this data will be used.
    1. Will Meta commit to not using the data to target advertisements to young users? If not, why not?
    2. Will Meta commit to not using the data collected from young users to train its chatbots? If not, why not?
  3. Does Meta intend to include advertising in its chatbots? If so, how will Meta ensure that those advertisements are clearly identified and do not confuse users, especially younger users? Will Meta commit to not including targeted advertising in these chatbots? If not, why not?
  4. Has Meta tested its chatbots to ensure they do not discriminate against users based on protected characteristics, including race, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity? If so, please identify the testing that Meta has performed.
  5. Has Meta conducted any research on the potential social and emotional impact of chatbots on younger users? If so, please include that research in your response. If not, why not? Has Meta consulted with experts and parents on the impact of chatbots on young users? If so, please describe those conversations. If not, why not?
  6. How will Meta ensure that it complies with the commitments it made to the White House on AI safety in July 2023? For example, will Meta commit to publicly reporting its AI-powered chatbots’ capabilities, limitations, and areas of inappropriate use and to prioritize research on potential discrimination and bias in its chatbots?

For years, Senator Markey has been a national voice in working to hold Meta accountable for its privacy protections. In March, he and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wrote a letter to Zuckerberg calling on the company to halt its reported plan to open Horizon Worlds, its landmark virtual reality environment platform in the metaverse, to teens ages 13 to 17. In April 2022, the lawmakers, along with Representatives Lori Trahan (MA-03) and Kathy Castor (FL-14), demanded answers from Zuckerberg about pro-eating disorder content on Instagram that targets kids and teens. In 2012, then-Rep. Markey queried Facebook about reports that it was considering a plan to allow children under the age of 12 to have access to the social networking site. 

In July, Senators Markey and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) were successful in advancing their Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA 2.0) through the Senate Commerce Committee. The legislation would update Senator Markey’s 1998 COPPA law and expand online privacy protections to better ensure children and teens are protected online.