Facebook Could Have Stopped Young Kids From Spending Millions on Games, but Didn’t, Documents Show

By Kevin Poulson for thedailybeast.com

Facebook’s own internal studies showed that children as young as kindergarten age were unwittingly putting hundreds or even thousands of dollars on their parents’ credit cards while playing games like Social Empires, Pocket God, and Angry Birds, newly released internal documents show.

But Facebook officials elected not to put speed bumps in its payment process that would reduce the unintended charges, for fear it would also cut into legitimate grown-up purchases, the documents show. At the same time, the company routinely refused refund requests from sticker-shocked parents.

“Unfortunately, because the unauthorized charge was made by someone in your household or by someone who is known to you, we cannot issue a refund per our terms of purchase,” reads one of Facebook’s scripted response letters.

The new details are found in roughly 140 pages of internal documents and depositions originally filed under seal in a class-action lawsuit against Facebook lodged by parents. Facebook settled the case in 2016, and last year the publication Reveal by the Center for Investigative Reporting asked the court to make the filings public. Some of the released documents still contain sizable redactions, and other papers in the case are still sealed.

At the core of the problem was Facebook’s practice of storing a user’s credit-card number after a purchase of any kind, making any subsequent spending child’s play. As with Facebook’s other contentious moves, this practice was only disclosed in the company’s terms-of-service, and parents were generally shocked to learn that their kids were able to spend freely with the click of a button—a trend Facebook dubbed “friendly fraud.”

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