Meta asks appeals court to tell FTC it cannot reopen privacy case

FILE PHOTO: Federal Trade Commission seal is seen at a news conference to announce that Facebook Inc has agreed to a settlement of allegations it mishandled user privacy at FTC Headquarters in Washington, U.S., July 24, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Meta Platforms, which owns WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook, filed a lawsuit asking an appeals court to stop the U.S. Federal Trade Commission from unilaterally re-opening a consent agreement and ordering the social media giant to stop collecting revenue on data from people under age 18.

The dispute stretches back to May, when the FTC proposed tightening a 2019 consent agreement to prohibit Meta from making money off young users, including in its virtual reality business. It would also expand restrictions on facial recognition technology.

In the 2019 agreement, Facebook, which became Meta in 2021, was required to pay $5 billion for violating an earlier agreement.

The new lawsuit is part of a battle between Meta and the FTC as the agency works to promote privacy and competition among Big Tech firms who in turn seek to halt any changes that could hurt profits.

The company filed a separate appeal against Judge Timothy Kelly's ruling this week that it should be an FTC judge, not a district judge, who decides that case.

This new lawsuit, filed late on Wednesday, argues that it is unconstitutional for the FTC to unilaterally tighten an existing consent agreement. In addition to the agency, it names Chair Lina Khan and the two Democratic commissioners, Rebecca Slaughter and Alvaro Bedoya, as defendants.

In May, the agency said that it had taken the action because Meta allegedly misled parents about how much control they had over who their children had contact with in the Messenger Kids app, among other issues.

The Meta complaints focus on the agency's dual role of prosecuting a matter before an FTC judge. Once the FTC judge makes a decision it is the commission which votes on whether to accept it. It also asserts that the commissioners are "unconstitutionally insulated from removal by the president" and that an FTC trial does not allow for a jury.

The FTC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The agency has a separate, antitrust fight with Meta. It asked a federal court in 2020 to order the company to sell Instagram, which it bought for $1 billion in 2012, and WhatsApp, which it bought for $19 billion in 2014. The case has not yet gone to trial.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz, Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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