MeetMe, unlike a lot of other social networks, has been working to accommodate 13- to 17-year-olds as a core part of its user base in an effort to provide them with a social outlet online. But catering to this market has San Francisco’s city attorney gunning for the service.
City attorney Dennis Herrera filed suit against MeetMe, accusing the service of having inadequate protections for the information of minors using the service. According to a press release from the attorney’s office, these lax protections “can enable sexual predators and stalkers to target children as young as 13 years of age.” With real-time location data available and squishy privacy boundaries, the city attorneys look to have a very strong case.
One of the key issues in the suit is that minors aged 13 to 17 are legally incapable of signing a contract, in this case, the terms of service for MeetMe.com. Sarah Eisenberg, the lead counsel for the city attorney’s office told Vice that there was another substantial issue with the ToS: It’s very difficult to understand. Eisenberg also said that based on reading level tests conducted on MeetMe’s ToS, it is “very difficult for someone with a college education to understand.” So in addition to minors not being able to legally consent to the ToS, MeetMe’s terms are rather cryptic.
This is one of the first cases of its kind in that the social network is on trial, not any individual users. While the stakes are high for MeetMe, this could have substantial impacts on other networks. In October 2013, Facebook loosened its restrictions and began allowing minors to post publicly. Tumblr sets its lower age limit to 13 in its ToS, but no other restrictions are listed.
If MeetMe loses this case, it could cost them a lot of money: $2,400 for each infraction. The impact could ripple out to other services. Teens are an important demographic to any social network, and if MeetMe is forced to shed 25 percent of its user base, the service could be crippled. With 73 percent of teens (12 to 17) using social networks like Facebook, just imagine the dent to the user base if a precedent is set.