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US gov’t, Meta go after one another over proposed ‘blanket prohibition’ on face biometrics

US gov’t, Meta go after one another over proposed ‘blanket prohibition’ on face biometrics
 

Open hostility has broken out in the United States between Meta and the Federal Trade Commission. Ostensibly, the argument is over Facebook’s privacy practices, a familiar topic between the two.

The FTC wants to impose a “blanket prohibition” on the company monetizing the face biometrics and other personal data of anyone younger than 18 years. (There is no shortage of conversation in the U.S. about age verification, which typically involves face biometrics or an ID document upload.)

In a statement spelling out actions it wants Meta to make, commissioners specifically said they want the company “subject to other expanded limitations, including in its use of facial recognition.” They want Meta to “provide additional protections for users.” That would mean disclosing and getting consent for “any future uses of facial recognition technology.”

This is the necessary result, according to the FTC, of Meta is not fully complying with a 2020 $5 billion fine and order – in effect until 2041 — telling executives what should be in their privacy policy. The political appointees have proposed rewriting that order.

Not only have executives not obeyed the order, commissioners say, they have “misled parents about their ability to control with whom their children through its Messenger Kids app and misrepresented” how much access some third-party app writers get to minors’ private biometric data.

It is not the first time that Meta has been accused of not playing straight with facial recognition policies.

Both of the conservatives on the commission had resigned before this matter, saying the three-member liberal majority are acting as legislators rather than regulators who implement policies based on Congressional acts.

The same day the FTC announced its prohibition plan, May 3, Meta fired back, calling the move “a political stunt.” Executives even hint at conspiracy on the part of commissioners.

“The timing is striking,” they write. The company “continuously” updates the FTC, but it does not have a way to address issues prompting talk of the prohibition. Commissioners in their statement say that this is an early step in the process of changing the 2020 order and that Meta will be able to respond.

And an independent assessor was preparing a statement about progress Meta has made in regulatory compliance and program changes since 2020.

The FTC is not only acting outside its portfolio, according to Meta, it is acting unfairly. Commissioners have decided to “single out one American company while allowing Chinese companies, like TikTok, to operate without constraint.”

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