EU Commission investigates violations of the protection of minors at Meta

The European Commission is opening proceedings against Facebook and Instagram parent company Meta on suspicion of violations of the protection of minors. There are fears that the design of the services, including their algorithms, could trigger addictive behavior in children, the Brussels authority announced on Thursday.

So-called rabbit hole effects are particularly feared. This refers to getting so deeply lost in a topic that you can no longer find your way out - similar to the main character in the story Alice in Wonderland getting lost down a rabbit hole. Algorithms - simply put, instructions written by humans for computers - can theoretically recognize such behavioral patterns and exploit them to encourage users to spend more time on a platform.

A new EU law on digital services (DSA) obliges online platforms to provide special protection for minors, among other things. It prohibits targeting them with advertising based on personal data. In addition, risks that exploit the weaknesses and inexperience of minors and cause addictive behavior must be assessed and mitigated.

The Commission has doubts that Meta sufficiently complies with these rules for the protection of minors. The company's age control methods are also a cause for concern. These may not be effective.

The commission now wants to gather further evidence, for example through interviews. With the initiation of the proceedings, only a suspicion is being examined for the time being, the result has not yet been determined.

The Commission had already initiated proceedings against Meta at the end of April (Werbewoche.ch reported). This concerns the suspicion that the Group has not complied with the DSA when dealing with political advertising. This is because the law not only requires platforms to comply with stricter rules for the protection of minors, but also to take faster and stricter action than before against illegal content such as hate and hate speech online. Otherwise they could face hefty fines. In principle, large services such as Facebook or Tiktok have to follow more rules than small ones.

Proceedings are already underway against the online platform TikTok and the short messaging service X (formerly Twitter). TikTok is being investigated as to whether the Chinese company is endangering the mental health of minors with its app version TikTok Lite (Werbewoche.ch reported). X was sent a list of questions following indications of illegal and misleading contributions to the attack on Israel by the Islamist Hamas, which the company had probably not answered to the satisfaction of the EU Commission. Proceedings were initiated against X in mid-December. (SDA)

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