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Advocates say Facebook tricked kids into in-game purchases

A collection of children's and privacy rights groups is accusing Facebook of intentionally duping kids into running up charges for playing games on the social network without their parents knowledge. 

Organizations including Common Sense Media and the Center for Digital Democracy on Thursday filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, calling on the regulator to investigate whether Facebook violated consumer and privacy laws protecting minors. 

"Facebook's exploitative practices targeted a population universally recognized as vulnerable -- young people," the coalition of 17 groups said in the complaint.

The action is the latest targeting Facebook, which is already under investigation for reportedly sharing data of tens of millions of Facebook users with political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

U.K. lawmakers accuse Facebook of knowingly violating privacy laws 02:51

The call for an FTC probe comes after a court approved a request by the Center for Investigative Reporting to unseal documents from a class-action lawsuit against Facebook that was settled for an undisclosed sum in 2016.

The suit was filed on behalf of parents whose minor children unwittingly purchased virtual items for games such as Angry Birds and Ninja Saga, then making it exceedingly difficult for parents or kids to get a refund for charges that in some cases ran as high as hundreds or thousands of dollars.

One document the advocacy groups cited showed employees at Facebook referring to an underage girl as a "whale," a term casinos use in talking about someone who spends lots of money. The documents also revealed that Facebook discouraged developers to employ ways of preventing kids from piling up charges on their parents' plastic, calling the scenario "friendly fraud."

"Kids, under any circumstances, should not be the target of irresponsible and unethical marketing tactics," Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, said in a news release. Facebook has shown "an ongoing pattern of the company putting profits over people," he added.

Facebook and the FTC didn't immediately return CBS MoneyWatch requests for comment.

Facebook isn't the only tech company to engage in such behavior: Apple, Amazon and Google all reached agreements with the FTC mandating that they change their billing practices to make sure parents agree to in-app purchases.

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