Meta just can’t seem to stay out of hot water when it comes to how they handle people’s personal data. The company was recently slapped with a massive €414 million (~$414 million USD) fine by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission for violating European Union data protection laws aimed at safeguarding teens and kids online.
This is just the latest in a string of privacy scandals that have plagued Meta’s Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. But the huge dollar amount of this fine shows regulators are losing patience with Meta’s apparent lack of protections. Let’s break down exactly what Meta did wrong and why it matters so much.
Under the EU’s far-reaching General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws, online services have to take extra steps to ensure the privacy and safety of minors using their platforms. But Ireland’s watchdog agency found Meta failed miserably in this regard when it comes to Instagram.
Specifically, Instagram had been automatically setting new accounts for teenage users to “public” by default. This allowed random adults to easily follow teens and access their info and posts without any restrictions. Instagram also didn’t have sufficient age controls during sign-up to verify if a user was indeed a minor.
Both huge oversights that directly endangered children’s privacy per EU regulations. And both reasons why Ireland’s DPC dropped the hammer on Meta with fines totaling over $400 million.
This record penalty against Meta makes it clear that EU regulators have zero tolerance when it comes to protecting people’s personal information online. They are not just slapping wrists with these massive fines. At €414 million, this is the second biggest GDPR fine ever behind Amazon’s $887 million penalty.
It also shows the growing pressure to better safeguard younger internet users in particular. Parents, child advocates and lawmakers have raised increasing concerns over social media’s effects on kids. Regulators in Europe aim to force platforms like Instagram to take concrete action to improve age protections and privacy practices.
Beyond just the huge dollar figure, this fine demonstrates the start of stricter oversight on how sites handle young people’s data and safety. Meta dodged major consequences over the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. But regulators are making an example of them this time.
As you can imagine, Meta isn’t thrilled about this record fine. But the company responded that they have already updated Instagram’s default privacy settings for the under 18 crowd. Accounts for minors are now private by default when they sign up.
Users have to actively choose to switch their profiles to public. Meta also noted they are working on rolling out additional age verification controls during signup. They essentially argued that the problems have been addressed, so the fine seems excessive.
But regulators aren’t backing down. They insist Meta needs to pay the full penalties for past violations. Both sides are likely gearing up for a drawn out appeals process in the months ahead.
In the immediate term, Meta will need to cough up the €414 million into the EU’s coffers. But longer term, this saga signals stricter oversight on protections for younger users that could require even more substantial changes on Meta’s platforms.
We’ll likely see strengthened age controls, like mandatory age verification, rolled out across Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp. Regulators may even push Meta to analyze internal research on the apps’ effects on teens and make it public. Tighter restrictions around ad targeting and data collection practices for minors can also be expected.
Ultimately, this record fine makes it clear we’ve entered a new era of rigor when it comes to safeguarding kids and teens on social platforms. Meta evaded major consequences before, but those days appear over. Regulators are now holding their feet to the fire. We’ll have to stay tuned to see how Meta responds over time, but the pressure is on.
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