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Judge: FTC can move forward with plans to impose tough new privacy restrictions on Meta

A federal judge will not stop the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) from intensifying restrictions it previously imposed on Meta as part of a record-breaking $5 billion privacy settlement.

District Judge Timothy Kelly’s Monday ruling allows the FTC to move ahead with a new proposal to impose a “blanket prohibition” on Facebook monetizing youth data.

The proposed new restrictions the FTC seeks also would place more limitations on Meta’s use of facial recognition technology, among other things.

The agency announced the proposed new restrictions in May, saying it was updating changes previously made in a 2020 privacy order. It said the move came in response to Meta failing to fully comply with the earlier order, including by misrepresenting how much access to private user data it gives to app developers and misleading parents about how much they can control who communicates with their children on the Messenger Kids app.

A spokesperson for Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, said the company will keep fighting.

“Today's decision does not address the substance of the FTC's allegations, which are without merit,” a Meta spokesperson said via email. “We are considering our legal options in light of the Court's ruling and will continue to vigorously fight the FTC's unlawful attempt to unilaterally rewrite our agreement.”

By the end of this year, Meta will have invested $5 billion since 2019 in a “rigorous privacy program that has embedded privacy into our products from the start,” the spokesperson added.

In a May response to the FTC announcement, Meta called the proposed new rules a “political stunt.”

Meta had argued that the federal court in Washington, D.C. should determine whether the FTC’s previous order can be changed, but Kelly asserted that the agency does not need a prior court’s approval to pursue new rules.

Child safety advocates cheered the court’s decision.

“Meta is a runaway train when it comes to its failure to protect children and teens online, including as we are learning through the new multi-state AG’s lawsuit, knowingly capturing and using young people's data contrary to existing law,” Danny Weiss, chief advocacy officer at Common Sense Media, said via text message. “The district judge is absolutely right.”

Last month the federal government and dozens of states’ attorneys general filed a lawsuit against Meta, accusing it of hurting children through what they called its addictive Instagram and Facebook platforms.

Earlier this month Meta whistleblower Arturo Béjar told the U.S. Senate that in his former role as a Meta engineering director he learned that 13% of Instagram users under the age of 16 had received unwanted sexual advances on the platform in the previous seven days of a given week. He said the company’s executives ignored his outreach about the problem.

Meanwhile, the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), which is meant to better protect kids online, continues to languish in Congress.

It is unclear when the FTC plans to issue the new rules. The agency declined to comment on the ruling.

John Davisson, director of litigation at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said he expects the FTC to move forward with an administrative hearing, the forum where changes to its consent orders are deliberated.

“Dragging this case into court before the agency process had even played out was a delay tactic by Meta,” Davisson said via email. “Meta will have every chance in the FTC's hearing process to argue that the consent order should stay unchanged, and the company can renew those arguments in court if it appeals the FTC's final decision.”

Davisson added that it will be a “high hill for Meta to climb,” citing reports over the past few days about Meta illegally exploiting kids' personal data and targeting adults with ads that run alongside suggestive videos of minors.

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Suzanne Smalley

Suzanne Smalley

is a reporter covering privacy, disinformation and cybersecurity policy for The Record. She was previously a cybersecurity reporter at CyberScoop and Reuters. Earlier in her career Suzanne covered the Boston Police Department for the Boston Globe and two presidential campaign cycles for Newsweek. She lives in Washington with her husband and three children.