Meta calls for legislation to require parental approval for teens' app downloads

Social media companies are set to face lawsuits accusing them of fostering teen addiction.


Meta has called for legislation that would require app stores to get parental approval before their teens download any app. That would effectively put more onus on parents, as well as Google and Apple, to protect younger users from apps that have the potential to cause harm.

"Parents should approve their teen’s app downloads, and we support federal legislation that requires app stores to get parents’ approval whenever their teens under 16 download apps," Antigone Davis, Meta's global head of safety, wrote. The company is proposing a plan that would see app stores notifying parents when their teen wants to download an app, in a similar way to how they are alerted when a kid wants to make an in-app purchase. The parent would then approve or deny the request.

Meta says its approach would let parents verify their teen's age when they set up a phone, rather than requiring everyone to verify their age multiple times across various apps. The company suggests legislation is needed to make sure all apps that teens use are held to the same standard.

It notes that states are enacting "a patchwork of different laws," some requiring teens to get parental approval for different apps and others mandating age verification. However, "teens move interchangeably between many websites and apps, and social media laws that hold different platforms to different standards in different states will mean teens are inconsistently protected," Davis wrote.

Under current proposals, Meta argues that parents would need to navigate different signup methods and provide "potentially sensitive identification information" for themselves and their teens "to apps with inconsistent security and privacy practices." Indeed, experts say that such age verification practices threaten the privacy of all users.

Utah is enacting legislation that will require social media apps to obtain parental content before a teen can use them. That state and Arkansas both passed social media age verification laws. Following a lawsuit from tech companies, a federal judge struck down the Arkansas legislation a day before it was set to take effect in September. The Utah laws are scheduled to come into force in March.

In its call for federal legislation, this could be seen as a case of Meta trying to pass the buck to parents and app stores. A judge this week rejected attempts by Meta, YouTube parent Google and TikTok owner ByteDance to dismiss lawsuits blaming them for teens' social media addiction. In October, 41 states and the District of Columbia sued Meta for allegedly releasing "harmful features on Instagram and Facebook that addict children and teens to their mental and physical detriment," among other things.