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Meta Faces EU Probe Over Child Safety and Behavioral Addictions

ByHuey Yee Ong

May 17, 2024

Meta Faces EU Probe Over Child Safety and Behavioral Addictions

The European Commission has officially launched a rigorous investigation into Meta Platforms Inc. to assess potential violations of the Digital Services Act (DSA). This investigation targets the social media giant’s practices around child safety and data privacy, sparked by concerns that the platforms may promote addictive behaviors among children and expose them to extensive privacy risks.

Triggered by a risk assessment report submitted by Meta in September 2023, the European Commission is scrutinizing whether Facebook and Instagram’s algorithms and content recommendation systems contribute to behavioral addictions, known colloquially as ‘rabbit-hole effects,’ where users, particularly children, are led deeper into consuming potentially harmful content. These effects are feared to adversely impact the mental health and development of young users across Europe.

EU’s Regulatory Concerns

Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for Internal Market, expressed skepticism regarding Meta’s compliance with the DSA. The DSA, a landmark legislation enacted to combat online harms including disinformation, child abuse, and shopping scams, imposes strict obligations on digital platforms to mitigate risks associated with their services. Breton underscored the priority of the investigation, emphasizing the EU’s commitment to ensuring that online experiences for young individuals are safe and age-appropriate.

Meta responded to the EU’s concerns by highlighting its longstanding efforts to safeguard young users, mentioning over a decade spent developing more than 50 tools and policies aimed at enhancing child safety online. A spokesperson from Meta expressed the company’s readiness to share the details of these efforts with the Commission, acknowledging the industry-wide challenge of protecting children on digital platforms.

The inquiry into Meta is part of a broader examination under the DSA, which also includes probes into other tech giants like X (formerly known as Twitter) and TikTok, reflecting the EU’s increasing scrutiny over major U.S. technology companies’ compliance with its regulatory standards. Meta is also being investigated for its handling of election disinformation and its measures to combat political content manipulation in the lead-up to the upcoming European Parliament elections.

In addition to behavioral addictions and content recommendations, the European Commission’s investigation extends to Meta’s mechanisms for age verification and the overall privacy safeguards for minors using its platforms. Concerns have been raised about the effectiveness of these age-verification tools, with some EU officials criticizing them as easily circumventable and questioning their adequacy in protecting minors from online risks.

Potential Outcomes of the Investigation

The EU’s approach to enforcing the DSA includes the possibility of imposing significant fines on companies that fail to comply, with penalties that can amount to up to 6% of a company’s global annual revenues. More immediate measures, such as on-site investigations and interviews with company executives, are also within the scope of the Commission’s enforcement powers.

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Featured Image courtesy of Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Huey Yee Ong

Hello, from one tech geek to another. Not your beloved TechCrunch writer, but a writer with an avid interest in the fast-paced tech scenes and all the latest tech mojo. I bring with me a unique take towards tech with a honed applied psychology perspective to make tech news digestible. In other words, I deliver tech news that is easy to read.

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