A federal judge ruled on Monday that a batch of previously hidden documents laying out how Facebook made money off of children must be made public.
The unprecedented release of internal company documents, which will arrive in the coming days, could bury the company in controversy on a scale of last year’s Cambridge Analytica data-harvesting scandal, which led to plunging share prices, lawsuits, and calls for a consumer boycott.
The documents from a 2012 class-action lawsuit, which are going public thanks to efforts by journalists at Reveal News from the Center of Investigative Reporting, reveal how Facebook deliberately misled children into paying hundreds if not thousands of dollars in game charges, and how the company failed to process refunds by unsuspecting parents. The documents also show how Facebook’s own employees voiced concerns about the long-running practice, only to be ignored by company management.
The case was sparked after a lead plaintiff agreed to allow their child to make a $20 payment in exchange for virtual currency while playing Ninja Saga on Facebook, only to begin accumulating massive charges that numbered into the hundreds within a few weeks. When Facebook failed to comply with the mother’s demands for a refund, the family filed a lawsuit in pursuit of their refund.
According to a previous ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Beth Freeman, the child “believed these purchases were being made with virtual currency, and that his mother’s credit card was not being charged for these purchases.”
In previous legal efforts by Reveal, the investigative journalism outfit uncovered documents that showed how children and parents failed to understand the opaque pay-as-you-go system while Facebook continued to drain their credit cards. When employees at the California-based company began raising concerns that people were effectively being hoodwinked, Facebook began analyzing demographic data for Angry Birds only to find that the average age of players was only five years old.
According to an internal Facebook memo:
“In nearly all cases the parents knew their child was playing Angry Birds, but didn’t think the child would be allowed to buy anything without their password or authorization first.”
The memo added that on other platforms such as Apple’s iPhone, continued payments required that people provide passwords or reauthorization. One employee expressed concern that children would be confused by in-game purchases requiring virtual currency because it doesn’t resemble “real money.”
In one particularly disturbing excerpt contained in an unsealed document published by Reveal, company employees flippantly discuss a pre-adolescent child they refer to as a “whale,” a term from the casino industry that refers to gamblers who squander massive amounts of money on bets. The child entered a credit card number to play the game and within two weeks, paid thousands of dollars in charges. The employees ultimately turned down her refund request.
Gillian: Would you refund this whale ticket? User is disputing ALL charges…
Michael: What’s the users total lifetime spend?
Gillian: It’s $6,545 – but card was just added on Sept. 2. They are disputing all of it I believe. That user looks underage as well. Well, maybe not under 13.
Michael: Is the user writing in a parent, or is this user a 13ish year old
Gillian: It’s a 13ish yr old. says its 15. looks a bit younger. she* not its. Lol.
Michael: … I wouldn’t refund
Gillian: Oh that’s fine. cool. agreed. just double checking
Court records also show that Facebook often never sent receipts for purchases, and attempts to dispute charges frequently led down the path to a dead end, or links that simply didn’t function.
In the past several years, online and smartphone gaming has become a lucrative enterprise for start-ups and developers, allowing for apps to be made for a few thousand dollars and ensuring, in many cases, a handsome return on investment.
In the case of so-called “Free-to-Play” (F2P) apps that allow players to speed-up progress by making in-game purchases, daily revenues raised by games can reach from the tens of thousands to over a million dollars. Industry-leading game Fortnite earns a daily revenue nearing $1.5 million, according to Think Gaming.
Facebook currently has a library of 6,000 Instant Games and a pool of 2.3 billion monthly active users, and has integrated its game-related functions with its desktop, mobile, and Messenger platforms.
In a 2010 article by industry magazine Gamasutra, Settlers Online game designer Teut Weidemann gave a glimpse into the mindsets of game developers, revealing an openly cynical approach to consumers. In the interview, the designer touted the seven biblical sins – vanity, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, sloth – as a go-to guide for “monetizing all the weakness of people” while keeping them “addicted and make them keep playing.”
“Game design is not about game design anymore — now it’s about business,” Christopher Schmitz, a colleague of Weidemann, added. “We do exploit them, but they should not feel like they’re treated in a bad way.”
Well, it appears that Facebook may be paying for its shady business practice of exploiting and screwing over young gamers and their families.
Only time will tell to what extent the company’s potentially deliberate bilking of users will backfire.
Dolphin Swims Through Louisiana Neighborhood in Aftermath of Hurricane Ida
A Louisiana family was shocked to find a dolphin swimming through their neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.
Amanda Huling and her family were assessing the damage to their neighborhood in Slidell, Louisiana, when they noticed the dolphin swimming through the inundated suburban landscape.
In video shot by Huling, the marine mammal’s dorsal fin can be seen emerging from the water.
“The dolphin was still there as of last night but I am in contact with an organization who is going to be rescuing it within the next few days if it is still there,” Huling told FOX 35.
Ida slammed into the coast of Louisiana this past weekend. The Category 4 hurricane ravaged the power grid of the region, plunging residents of New Orleans and upwards of 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi into the dark for an indefinite period of time.
Officials have warned that the damage has been so extensive that it could take weeks to repair the power grid, reports Associated Press.
Also in Slidell, a 71-year-old man was attacked by an alligator over the weekend while he was in his flooded shed. The man went missing and is assumed dead, reports WDSU.
Internet users began growing weary last year about the steady stream of stories belonging to a “nature is healing” genre, as people stayed indoors and stories emerged about animals taking back their environs be it in the sea or in our suburbs.
However, these latest events are the surreal realities of a world in which extreme weather events are fast becoming the new normal – disrupting our lives in sometimes predictable, and occasionally shocking and surreal, ways.
Mom in LA Suburbs Fights Off Mountain Lion With Bare Hands, Rescues 5-Year-Old Son
A mother in Southern California is being hailed as a hero after rescuing her five-year-old son from an attacking mountain lion.
The little boy was playing outside his home in Calabasas, a city lying west of Los Angeles in the Santa Monica Mountains, when the large cat pounced on him.
The 65-pound (30 kg) mountain lion dragged the boy about 45 yards across the front lawn before the mother acted fast, running out and striking the creature with her bare hands and forcing it to free her son.
“The true hero of this story is his mom because she absolutely saved her son’s life,” California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Captain Patrick Foy told Associated Press on Saturday.
“She ran out of the house and started punching and striking the mountain lion with her bare hands and got him off her son,” Foy added.
The boy sustained significant injuries to his head, neck and upper torso, but is now in stable condition at a hospital in Los Angeles, according to authorities.
The mountain lion was later located and killed by an officer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, who found the big cat crouching in the bushes with its “ears back and hissing” at the officer shortly after he arrived at the property.
“Due to its behavior and proximity to the attack, the warden believed it was likely the attacking lion and to protect public safety shot and killed it on sight,” the wildlife department noted in its statement.
The mountain lion attack is the first such attack on a human in Los Angeles County since 1995, according to Fish and Wildlife.
The Santa Monica Mountains is a biodiverse region teeming with wildlife such as large raptors, mountain lions, bears, coyote, deer, lizards, and snakes. However, their numbers have rapidly faded in recent years, causing local wildlife authorities to find new ways to manage the region’s endemic species.
Video Shows Taliban Taking Joyride in Captured US Blackhawk Helicopter
The rapid fall of Kabul to the Taliban has resulted in a number of surreal sights – from footage of the Islamist group’s fighters exercising at a presidential gym to clips of combatants having a great time on bumper cars at the local fun park.
However, a new video of Taliban members seemingly testing their skills in the cockpit of a commandeered UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter shows the chilling extent to which U.S. wares have fallen into the hands of a group it spent trillions of dollars, and exhaustive resources, to stamp out.
In the new video, shared on Twitter, the front-line utility helicopter can be seen taxiing on the ground at Kandahar Airport in southeastern Afghanistan, moving along the tarmac. It is unclear who exactly was sitting in the cockpit, and the Black Hawk cannot be seen taking off or flying.
It is unlikely that the Taliban have any combatants who are sufficiently trained to fly a UH-60 Black Hawk.
The helicopter, which carries a $6 million price tag, is just a small part of the massive haul that fell into the militant group’s hands after the country’s central government seemingly evaporated on Aug. 14 amid the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition troops.
Some 200,000 firearms, 20,000 Humvees and hundreds of aircraft financed by Washington for the now-defunct Afghan Army are believed to be in the possession of the Taliban.
The firearms include M24 sniper rifles, M18 assault weapons, anti-tank missiles, automatic grenade launchers, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.
Taliban fighters in the elite Badri 313 Brigade have been seen in propaganda images showing off in uniforms and wielding weaponry meant for the special forces units of the Afghan Army.
The U.S. is known to have purchased 42,000 light tactical vehicles, 9,000 medium tactical vehicles and over 22,000 Humvees between 2003 and 2016.
The White House remains unclear on how much weaponry has fallen into Taliban hands, with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan admitting last week that the U.S. lacks a “clear picture of just how much missing $83 billion of military inventory” the group has.