Irish authorities have fined Meta $400 million for its handling of children's data on Instagram. According to the Irish Data Protection Commission, Instagram made the accounts of teenagers public by default and displayed the email and phone numbers of teenage users, potentially allowing adults online to contact them. Instagram requires users to be at least 13 years old.
A spokesperson for Meta told POLITICO that the inquiry "focused on old settings that we updated over a year ago," noting that the company has since added features to protect teens' privacy. "Anyone under 18 automatically has their account set to private when they join Instagram, so only people they know can see what they post, and adults can’t message teens who don’t follow them," the spokesperson told POLITICO. "We engaged fully with the DPC throughout their inquiry, and we’re carefully reviewing their final decision.”
Meta plans to appeal the decision, The New York Times reported.
Since Meta’s European operations are headquartered in Ireland, it falls on officials there to regulate and implement the EU's GDPR privacy rules, which went into effect in 2018. This makes the country also responsible for enforcing privacy rules for other tech giants including Amazon, Apple and Twitter that are also based in Ireland. Some have criticized Dublin for being soft on its implementation four years in, but in recent months, it has been willing to investigate and impose hefty penalties for alleged violations.
The current fine is the third and the biggest one yet imposed on Meta after it was fined roughly $223 million for violations on WhatsApp and nearly $17 million for breaches on Facebook. There are at least six other investigations into Meta in Ireland, POLITICO reported.
Instagram's ability to protect its youngest users has also been the subject of widespread scrutiny in the United States. Last year, former employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen shared internal documents that suggested Instagram was negatively impacting teen girls' mental health, launching a flurry of congressional hearings and outrage over Instagram's plans to launch a product for kids.
The negative attention forced Instagram to — temporarily, at least — shelve that project. "I have to believe parents would prefer the option for their children to use an age-appropriate version of Instagram — that gives them oversight — than the alternative," Instagram head Adam Mosseri tweeted, announcing the decision to pause the project. "But I'm not here to downplay their concerns, we have to get this right."