The proposal to shift legal responsibility comes as social media platforms face increasing legal battles from parents and lawmakers alike …
It’s no coincidence that Meta is putting forward this proposal shortly after losing a bid for the dismissal of hundreds of lawsuits from parents claiming social media companies deliberately seek to get teenagers addicted to their apps.
We outlined then the background to this:
There have been numerous studies linking excessive smartphone usage in general – and social media apps in particular – to various forms of harm.
For example, in 2019 a meta analysis of 41 separate studies concluded that Problematic Smartphone Usage, aka smartphone addiction, should be considered a psychiatric condition.
A 2021 study showed that almost 40% of college students used their smartphones at a level that affected their sleep, with likely implications for both study performance and health.
In the same year, the WSJ obtained copies of internal research at Meta showing that Instagram was “toxic” for teenage girls.
While some academics take issue with the phrase “smartphone addiction,” Apple CEO Tim Cook acknowledged as long ago as 2018 that technology can be overused.
Separately, state legislatures are increasingly seeking to enforce protections for teenagers. NY wants to require kids to get parental permission to use apps with algorithmic feeds, while Utah wants to prevent teenagers using social media apps altogether.
The Washington Post reports that Meta wants to put Apple and Google in the firing line instead.
Meta is pushing for rival tech giants such as Google and Apple to play a bigger role in keeping teens off potentially harmful sites, calling for the first time for legislation to require app stores to get parental approval when users age 13 to 15 download apps […]
“With this solution, when a teen wants to download an app, app stores would be required to notify their parents, much like when parents are notified if their teen attempts to make a purchase,” writes Meta’s global head of safety, Antigone Davis. “Parents can decide if they want to approve the download.”
The lower age limit mentioned is because, in theory, those aged 12 and under are not permitted to use social media apps.
The company argues that by shifting responsibility from app developers to the app stores, it would ensure a simple, consistent standard (and not at all because it would pass the legal buck to Apple and Google).
While this proposal is of course motivated by a desire to escape legal liability, Meta does have one argument on its side. By requiring apps to carry out age verification, that obligates them to collect date of birth when someone registers to use a social media app.
Some have argued that this is a privacy risk to children. Having only Apple and Google do it would pose a lower risk. And yeah, if you asked me who I trust more to protect sensitive personal information like that – Apple or Meta – then it’s no contest.
So despite Meta’s sketchy motives, this move may actually make sense.
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