EU opens child safety probes of Facebook and Instagram, citing addictive design concerns

EU opens child safety probes of Facebook and Instagram, citing addictive design concerns

Facebook and Instagram are under formal investigation in the European Union over child protection concerns, the Commission announced Thursday. The proceedings follow a raft of requests for information to parent entity Meta since the bloc’s online governance regime, the Digital Services Act (DSA), started applying on it last August.

The development could be significant as the formal proceedings unlock additional investigatory powers for EU enforcers, such as the ability to conduct office inspects or apply interim measures. Penalties for any confirmed breaches of the DSA could reach up to 6% of Meta’s global annual turnover.

Meta’s two social networks are designated as very large online platforms (VLOPs) under the DSA. This means the company faces an extra set of rules — overseen by the EU directly — requiring it to assess and mitigate systemic risks, including in areas like minors mental health.

In a briefing with journalists, senior Commission officials said they suspect the tech giant of failing to properly assess and mitigate risks affecting children.

They particularly highlighted concerns about addictive design and what they referred to as as “rabbit hole effect”, where a minor watching one video may be pushed to view more similar content as a result of the platforms’ algorithmic recommender engines.

Commission officials gave examples of depression content, or content that promotes an unhealthy body image, as types of content that could have negative impacts on minors’ mental health.

They are also concerned that age assurance methods Meta uses may be too easy for kids to circumvent.

In all, the EU suspects Meta of infringing DSA Articles 28, 34, and 35. It will now carry out an in-depth investigations of the two platforms.

Meta has been contacted for a response.

The EU opened a similar probe of addictive design concerns on video sharing social network TikTok last month.

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

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