FTC Bans Anonymous Messaging App NGL from Hosting Users Under 18

FTC Bans Anonymous Messaging App NGL from Hosting Users Under 18  - Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto/Getty Images via CNN Photo Source: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto/Getty Images via CNN

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office have banned the anonymous messaging app "NGL: ask me anything" from being used by anyone under 18. This decisive action follows allegations that the app was inappropriately marketed to minors and facilitated cyberbullying and harassment. The settlement, announced on Tuesday (July 9), marks the first instance of the FTC ordering a messaging app to cease operations for children and teens.

As part of the settlement, NGL Labs, LLC, along with its co-founders Raj Vir and Joao Figueiredo, have agreed to pay $5 million. FTC Chair Lina Khan emphasized the seriousness of the issue, stating that NGL “marketed its app to kids and teens despite knowing that it was exposing them to cyberbullying and harassment.” She further asserted the agency’s commitment to targeting companies that exploit children for profit.

The complaint, jointly filed by the FTC and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, alleges that NGL not only marketed its service to minors but also made false claims regarding the safety of its platform. Specifically, the app falsely asserted that its artificial intelligence (AI) moderation could effectively filter out harmful content. Additionally, the app allegedly sent fake computer generated messages, designed to appear as though they were from real people, to deceive users into purchasing a subscription with the false promise of revealing the identity of message senders. These messages, such as “are you straight?” or “I know what you did,” were crafted to provoke curiosity and anxiety. Users were then encouraged to buy the app’s pro version, priced at up to $9.99 per week, to uncover the sender’s identity. However, even paying users only received vague “hints” instead of the promised information.

Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón condemned the app's practices, highlighting the severe consequences of such anonymity, which can foster “rampant cyberbullying among teens.” He declared that the exploitation of children’s safety and well-being for profit is intolerable, and the charges against NGL “send a clear message that deceptive practices and targeting vulnerable populations will not be tolerated.”

In response, Figueiredo stated that the company views the settlement as an “opportunity” to improve the app for its users, although he disputed some of the allegations regarding their young user base. He expressed hope that the agreed-upon age restriction and other measures would set a precedent for better policies in the industry.

The case has drawn support from children’s online safety advocacy groups, including Fairplay, and parent advocate Kristen Bride. Bride’s 16-year-old son, Carson, tragically died by suicide in 2020 after experiencing cyberbullying on other anonymous messaging apps. She praised the FTC’s action, criticizing NGL’s business model for “keeping kids engaged” while struggling with harassment from unknown sources, ultimately for data collection and profit.

The settlement is pending approval by the US District Court for the Central District of California.

Nina Richards
Nina Richards
Nina earned her Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from Brandman University, laying the foundation for her interest in and understanding of human behavior. She works full-time at Law Commentary and is dedicated to merging her passion for pop culture with legal insights. Combining her analytical skills and interest in staying updated on trends, she strives to deliver pop culture legal news, bridging the gap between law and contemporary society.
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