Facebook Used Games To Profit Off Kids, Documents Show

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According to a substantial trove of documents made public on Thursday, Facebook deliberately and systematically exploited young users for money, CBS News reports. The documents were released as part of a 2012 lawsuit alleging that Facebook knew about the widespread occurrence of kids spending money on game apps without parental consent and avoided stopping the practice.

Parent Glynnis Bohanna questioned her 12-year-old son when a $19.95 game charged to her credit card with her permission quickly led to nearly $1,000 in charges after the app stored her credit card information and used it for continuing transactions within the game. She asked her son to show her what was happening.

“[In the game] there was a little stack of coins and it would get low and it would blink at him and he would hit it and it would go ‘brrrring’ and the coins would shoot up again,” Bohannan said. “No symbol of my visa card, no symbol $19.95 with the dollar symbol. Nothing!”

The practice of a child using the app on a parent or grandparent’s account was known as “friendly fraud” internally at Facebook, court documents show.

“There’s no way that they didn’t know these transactions were originating from Facebook accounts that were assigned to minors,” said John Parker, the Bohannans’ attorney. The case ultimately grew into a class action suit.

Facebook’s own analysis of refunds requested by another game, Angry Birds, determined that more than 90 percent of requests were the result of friendly fraud. In most cases, according to the company’s internal review at the time, parents did not understand that they could incur additional charges without additional consent, such as a password or other authorization.

A deposition states that Facebook employees were slow to curtail the phenomenon of friendly fraud, as it represented a substantial source of revenue for the company. Facebook had determined that between 2008 and 2014, children had made purchases totaling more than $34 million through adults’ accounts.

“I think it was all driven by greed and money,” Bohannan said. “I felt this could be a family’s rent or the car payment, or their grocery money, and that this was wrong.”

Her case was settled in 2016, with Facebook indicating that there was a wealth of resources available through the site to accommodate refund requests when children make purchases without parental consent.

The documents were released after a request from an organization called “Reveal, from the Center For Investigative Reporting.” The release includes more than 100 pages of material, including internal emails and employee depositions.