26 September 2023

Instagram was fined $402 million for mishandling teens’ data in the EU

Start the conversation

David Pierce* says the investigation took almost two years

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission has fined Meta €405 million (about $402 million) after an investigation into how it handled teenagers’ data.

The decision and fine were finalized last Friday, DPC spokesperson Caolmhe McGuire tells The Verge, and “full details of the decision will publish next week.”

The DPC’s deadline for making a final decision on this matter was the end of this week.

The investigation leading started almost two years ago, and focused on two ways in which the company allegedly breached GDPR rules.

The first was Instagram allowing young users, ages 13-17, to set up business accounts on the platform, which made those users’ contact information publicly available. (Users sometimes switch to business accounts because doing so comes with access to more engagement analytics.)

Instagram also allegedly made the accounts of some young users public by default.

This is the third and largest fine the DPC has imposed on Meta, easily eclipsing the 225 million euros (about $267 million at the time) the company faced after the DPC found that WhatsApp didn’t properly inform EU citizens about how it collected and used their data, particularly regarding how it shared that data back with Meta.

WhatsApp was ordered to change its privacy policy, and said it planned to appeal.

There was also a much smaller fine of 17 million euros (about $18.6 million) for record-keeping issues around security breaches.

The DPC also has dozens of other investigations underway against Big Tech companies, including several more involving Meta’s data practices.

Meta said in a statement to Politico that it updated the public-by-default setting more than a year ago, and that “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 company told the Associated Press that “we disagree with how this fine was calculated and intend to appeal it.”

The way Meta — and Instagram in particular — handle the online experience if its youngest users has been under a huge amount of scrutiny in the last couple of years, thanks in part to Frances Haugen’s testimony about Instagram’s effect on mental health.

Instagram has also simultaneously tried to build more products for those young users, which has been met with huge backlash.

Instagram head Adam Mosseri has argued in favour of this work, though: “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,” he said last year.

He promised to work with regulators to make that happen, and Meta said it also cooperated with the DPC’s recent investigation.

*David Pierce is The Verge’s Editor-at-Large. In previous lives he worked at Protocol, The Wall Street Journal, and Wired.

This article first appeared at theverge.com.

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.