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EU opens child safety investigations into Facebook and Instagram, citing addictive design concerns

Facebook and Instagram are the subject of a formal investigation in the European Union for child protection reasons, the Commission announced on Thursday. The procedure follows a series of requests for information to parent entity Meta since the bloc’s e-governance regime, the Digital Services Act (DSA), began to apply last August.

This development could be significant as formal procedures unlock additional investigative powers for EU authorities, such as the ability to carry out inspections at offices or apply provisional measures. Penalties for any confirmed DSA violations could reach up to 6% of Meta’s global annual revenue.

Meta’s two social networks are designated as Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) under the DSA. This means the company faces an additional set of rules – overseen directly by the EU – requiring it to assess and mitigate systemic risks across Facebook and Instagram, including in areas such as the mental health of minors .

In a briefing with journalists, senior Commission officials said they suspected Meta of failing to properly assess and mitigate risks affecting children.

They particularly highlighted concerns about addictive design on their social networks and what they called a “rabbit hole effect,” in which a minor watching one video may be pushed to watch more similar content due to search engines. platform content recommendation algorithms. .

Commission officials gave examples of depressive content or content promoting an unhealthy body image as types of content that could have negative impacts on the mental health of minors.

They also worry that the age guarantee methods used by Meta are too easy for children to circumvent.

“One of the questions underlying all of these complaints is how can we be sure who is accessing the service and how effective are age barriers – particularly in preventing underage users from accessing to the service,” a senior Commission official said at a press briefing today. . “This is now part of our investigation to verify the effectiveness of the measures Meta has put in place in this regard as well.”

In total, the EU suspects Meta of having breached Articles 28, 34 and 35 of the DSA. The Commission will now carry out an in-depth investigation into the two platforms’ approach to child protection.

Meta has been contacted for a response.

The EU last month opened a similar investigation into problems with addictive design on the video-sharing social network TikTok.

The Commission has also already opened two DSA investigations into Meta’s social networks. Last month, it announced it would investigate separate concerns related to Facebook and Instagram’s approach to election integrity.

techcrunch

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