Senators press Facebook over its handling of children's privacy

Senators press Facebook over its handling of children's privacy
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Two Democratic senators are raising questions about Facebook’s handling of children’s privacy after a flaw in the company’s Messenger Kids app allowed users to communicate with people not approved by parents.

Sens. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyHillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Bezos phone breach raises fears over Saudi hacking | Amazon seeks to halt Microsoft's work on 'war cloud' | Lawmakers unveil surveillance reform bill Twitter tells facial-recognition app maker to stop collecting its data Democratic senator presses facial recognition company after reports of law enforcement collaboration MORE (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — UN calls for probe into alleged Saudi hack of Bezos | Experts see effort to 'silence' Washington Post | Bezos tweets tribute to Khashoggi Trump says Zuckerberg presidential run 'wouldn't be too frightening' Hillicon Valley: Biden calls for revoking tech legal shield | DHS chief 'fully expects' Russia to try to interfere in 2020 | Smaller companies testify against Big Tech 'monopoly power' MORE on Tuesday asking him to provide more information about the flaw and whether the company has discovered any other threats to children’s privacy.

“Children’s privacy and safety online should be Messenger Kids’ top priority,” their letter reads. “Your company has a responsibility to meet its promise to parents that children are not exposed to unapproved contacts, a promise that it appears that Facebook has not fulfilled.”

Facebook notified parents last month that it had discovered that child users were able to enter group chats with strangers that their parents had not approved.

A Facebook spokesperson acknowledged that the company had received the letter and pointed to a statement released last month.

"We recently notified some parents of Messenger Kids account users about a technical error that we detected affecting a small number of group chats," the spokesperson said. "We turned off the affected chats and provided parents with additional resources on Messenger Kids and online safety."

Facebook settled with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in July for $5 billion over the company’s handling of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which the agency charged had violated a previous consent agreement in 2012 over privacy violations.

Despite the record-setting fine, privacy advocates have criticized last month's settlement as weak for its lack of conditions to restrain Facebook’s data collection practices. Moreover, the settlement released Facebook from any liability for any other violations of the 2012 agreement.

Markey and Blumenthal have voiced concerns that the settlement could mean that Facebook also gets a pass for potential violations of children’s privacy that is protected under a 20-year-old law called the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

“This is particularly troubling given that the July 24, 2019, settlement between Facebook and the FTC appears to release Facebook from any liability for all known violations of the Federal Trade Commission Act Section 5 as of June 12, 2019 and all violations of the FTC’s 2012 consent decree,” they wrote in their letter.

Last year, a coalition of advocates filed a complaint with the FTC alleging that the Messenger Kids app was violating COPPA by collecting information on children without consent from their parents.

The FTC told The Hill that the order would not prevent them from pursuing children's privacy charges against Facebook.

"To the extent that any new information comes to light regarding an alleged violation of COPPA, either past, present, or future, nothing in the order with Facebook would prevent the FTC from pursuing a possible enforcement action," FTC spokeswoman Juliana Gruenwald said in an email.

Updated at 5:10 a.m.