If the scandal with Cambridge Analytica was not enough for Facebook last year, in 2019 the company may face yet another wave of controversy before the public and even justice. That’s because some legal documents were revealed, possibly detailing how Mark Zuckerberg’s company generated money with children without the clear and continuous consent of parents and guardians.
Who is working on the disclosure process for these documents is the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), a non-profit news organization that maintains the Reveal initiative, whose podcasts tell stories about inequalities, abuse, and corruption and airing on 470 public radio stations.
The case began with two children under 18 who, through their parents, revealed that they were users and that they had bought Facebook credits in their accounts, as well as a whole class of children who did the same. The incident was resolved in 2016, but the documents remained sealed and Reveal requested that the papers be released because there was an increase in the public’s interest in “Facebook’s business practices” due to a string of scandals involving the social network.
Because of that, the court ruled last Monday (14) that Facebook had 10 days to make the documents publicly available, which may have more than 100 pages. So far, four of them have already been unveiled and give a preview of what’s to come, with a charging system via social networking applications and Facebook credits, with the description of these systems looking rather confusing for children and adults.
It turns out that when the purchase of a game is made by the responsible or the minor using a parent’s credit card, Facebook stores the payment medium information, and the method is repeatedly charged from the user with new virtual acquisitions, without making it clear that new transactions are taking place. And in the case of children who made purchases of these virtual credits, the biggest surprise came in the credit card bill.
The parents who went through this incident contacted Facebook to request a refund of the huge amounts of money charged, as they were not authorized by them – but the company declined. The main argument, even, is that no evidence was requested by the social network that they were in fact responsible for authorizing each transaction.
As only a portion of the documents have been released, many more details will be revealed later when Facebook releases the more than 100 pages that are still missing. It is worth mentioning, however, that the company also persuaded the judge to keep some records confidential because they contain “information that would cause damage to the social network, outweighing the public benefit”, indicating that the hole may be much deeper than if imagine.