Senators Markey and Blumenthal Demand Answers from Zuckerberg Regarding Reports that Facebook Duped Children and Parents Out of Money
Washington (January 29, 2019) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), members of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, today sent a letter to Facebook demanding information about new evidence that the company knowingly manipulated children into spending their parents’ money without permission while playing games on Facebook. Recent findings uncovered by The Center for Investigative Reporting show that Facebook personnel had direct knowledge that children were spending large sums of their parents’ money on in-app purchases without parental knowledge or permission. Specific design features and default settings fostered this practice. In addition, reports suggest that when Facebook became aware of this phenomenon and identified a solution, the company declined to implement the fix, and even designed a mechanism to automatically dispute its users’ requests for refunds.
“Reporting suggests that your users requested refunds for over 9% of the money Facebook made from children, raising serious questions about whether your company has engaged in deceptive business practices and whether all of those affected have been made whole,” write the Senators in the letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “Together, these findings point to a problematic culture of putting profits ahead of your users’ financial wellbeing and raise serious concerns regarding the company’s willingness to engage responsibly in its interactions with children.”
A copy of the Senator’s letter can be found HERE.
In the letter, the Senators ask Facebook to respond to questions that include:
- When did Facebook personnel become aware that children were likely unknowingly spending their parents’ money while playing games on your platform? When did you, as CEO, become aware of this issue?
- Who is currently responsible for addressing issues pertaining to children’s use of Facebook services?
- What policy changes has Facebook implemented to put an end to the practice of children making in-app purchases without parental knowledge? If such changes were made, when were they implemented and what steps has Facebook taken to ensure they will be effective?
- Will Facebook commit to promptly refunding its users in full for money that was spent by children as a result of Facebook’s past policies?
- Has the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) contacted you about this issue? If so, is Facebook fully cooperating with any and all related FTC investigations?
- Are you aware of any other Facebook policies or programs that have led to children spending money on your platform without parental knowledge?
- In order to mitigate additional risk of manipulating children on Facebook, will you commit to requiring all youth directed content and services on your platform to be free of charge and without advertisements?
In October 2918, Senators Markey and Blumenthal called on the FTC to investigate if Facebook violated COPPA after a study found that apps were accessing children’s sensitive information without providing notice or obtaining the required consent.