Markey to Facebook: Stop Paying Teens for Data

Another day, another shot, make that shots, at Facebook from Washington.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on Wednesday called on Facebook to stop paying teen-agers for personal information and said he would be introducing his bill to extend online privacy protections from kids to youth.

Markey has long argued that current online protections in the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) he spearheaded be extended from kids (13 and under) to teens as old as 17.

Related: Facebook Hammered from Multiple Sides in D.C.

Markey was reacting to a TechCrunch report that Facebook had offered teens money for giving up personal information including communications, web histories and photos.

“It is inherently manipulative to offer teens money in exchange for their personal information when younger users don’t have a clear understanding how much data they’re handing over and how sensitive it is,” Markey said. “I strongly urge Facebook to immediately cease its recruitment of teens for its Research Program and explicitly prohibit minors from participating."

He put in a plug for his ‘Do Not Track Kids Act,' which would extend protections to teens.

That comes only a day after Markey joined with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in a letter demanding information from Facebook about "knowingly" trying to get kids to spend their parents' money on in-app purchases those parents didn't know about.

Facebook had no comment on the Markey statement, but did weigh in on the TechCrunch story that prompted it.“Key facts about this market research program are being ignored," a company spokesperson said. "Despite early reports, there was nothing 'secret' about this; it was literally called the Facebook Research App. It wasn't 'spying' as all of the people who signed up to participate went through a clear on-boarding process asking for their permission and were paid to participate. Finally, less than 5% of the people who chose to participate in this market research program were teens. All of them with signed parental consent forms.”

A Facebook source said it plans ending the market research program on Apple's app store and that it wasn't meant to replace Onavo, which was removed from the app store last year.

Fight for the Future pointed out that means Facebook is still pushing the program via the Google Play store and has launched a petition to get Google to boot it from that platform.

Elsewhere, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has issues with the pay-for-info program, and sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to make that clear.

“In both the case of Onavo and the Facebook Research project, I have concerns that users were not appropriately informed about the extent of Facebook’s data-gathering and the commercial purposes of this data collection," Warner told Zuckerberg. "Facebook’s apparent lack of full transparency with users – particularly in the context of ‘research’ efforts – has been a source of frustration for me,” Warner told Zuckerberg.."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.