Facebook will surely be bracing itself for some fresh backlash from the public next week following a number of revealing legal documents being unsealed. Those documents are expected to detail how Facebook made money off children without ongoing and clear consent from a parent or guardian.
The documents are being unsealed thanks to the work of Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. They form part of a 2012 class action lawsuit which was filed by two children through their parents. It represented a class of children who were all under 18, Facebook users, and who had purchased Facebook Credits on their accounts.
Facebook settled the case in 2016, but the documents remained sealed. Reveal requested the documents be unsealed last year because, “there is increased public interest in Facebook’s business practices in the wake of high-profile scandals, including fake news published on the site and the leaking of user data.” The court agreed on Monday, Jan. 14, and Facebook has 10 days to make the documents available publicly. There’s thought to be over 100 pages.
Four documents that have already been unsealed give us a good idea of what to expect in the coming days. The system used by Facebook to charge for in-app purchases and Facebook Credits proved very confusing for children and their parents.
When an initial payment is made by the parent, or child using their parent’s credit card, Facebook stores the payment information. The card is then repeatedly charged as the game is played without it being made clear new transactions are occurring. As far as the child was concerned, they were just using up the virtual credit purchased with the initial transaction. This led to surprise credit card bills where hundreds or even thousands of dollars had been racked up playing games on Facebook.
As you’d expect, parents receiving these huge bills contacted Facebook for a refund because the charges weren’t authorized, but Facebook refused. In the case of Angry Birds, which is one of Facebook’s most popular games, the average age of the player was just five-years-old, and yet they were allowed to keep buying without consent beyond that first transaction. The key point here being, no evidence was required by the social network that the parent was continuing to authorize each transaction.
It’s likely these examples are just the tip of the iceberg and much more detail will be revealed once Facebook makes the 100+ new pages available to view. However, it’s also worth pointing out that Facebook convinced the judge to keep some records sealed because they, “contained information that would cause the social media giant harm, outweighing the public benefit.”
We may never know how deep this rabbit hole goes, but we’re sure to know a lot more in the coming days.
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