Instagram head faces Congress raging on whistleblower claims

Adam Mosseri will have to respond to an array of accusations from senators who have compared Meta to tobacco firms. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - Instagram's chief will head to Capitol Hill on Wednesday (Dec 8) to face lawmakers who are still angry over whistleblower revelations and unlikely to be mollified by changes billed as making the platform safer for young users.

Adam Mosseri will have to respond to an array of accusations from senators who have compared Instagram's parent company - which changed its name from Facebook to Meta Platforms in a corporate rebranding effort - to tobacco firms that hid the deadly consequences of their products from Congress and the public.

New features Instagram announced on Tuesday will allow Mosseri to bring something of a peace offering to the Senate Commerce consumer protection subcommittee, which has led the congressional investigation of Facebook since former product manager Frances Haugen shared thousands of internal documents with federal authorities and journalists.

The changes will let users of the photo-sharing app set a reminder to take breaks from scrolling, limit the interaction between teens and people they don't follow, and provide more tools for parental control.

Consumer protection subcommittee chair Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said the new features are "baby steps" that should have been implemented long ago.

He and other lawmakers have said they don't trust tech companies to police themselves and have vowed to pass tougher rules to protect privacy and hold platforms responsible for the way they disseminate information.

Although there are several bills in Congress to set new guardrails for online platforms, there's little consensus about the best approach to regulate a complex and fast-moving industry.

Next year, before the November midterm elections, will be a crucial window for lawmakers to pass any tech-focused legislation.

Haugen testified before the same subcommittee in October and urged lawmakers not to give Facebook a "free pass" for product designs that she said maximise for engagement - which translates into more ad dollars and profit - even at great cost to individuals and society.

The subcommittee also heard from Antigone Davis, global head of security for what's now Meta Platforms, in September. That was shortly after initial news reports based on internal documents from Haugen, including studies that showed the use of Instagram aggravates mental health risks for teens with body image issues.

Davis downplayed those findings, saying they were based on a small sample size and didn't establish a causal relationship.

Davis also had a peace offering to bring the subcommittee in her testimony.

Just days earlier, Mosseri said Instagram would pause development of a product designed for children, although he defended the concept as the best option for potential users younger than Instagram's current minimum age of 13.

Lawmakers have since pushed the company to commit to ending the project altogether.

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