The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is launching an inquiry into the data collection and privacy practices of some of the biggest names in the tech industry, namely Amazon, Discord, Facebook, Reddit, Snap (Snapchat), Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube, and TikTok parent ByteDance. The consumer protection agency has issued orders requiring these companies to respond with the information on how they collect and use the personal data of their users.
The FTC is seeking information on how these companies collect, use, track, estimate, or derive personal and demographic data. The agency also wants to know how they tailor and show ads to consumers and whether they apply algorithms or data analytics to personal information.
Additionally, the commission is also seeking information on how these companies measure, promote, and research user engagement. They also want to know how these practices affect children and teens. The companies have 45 days to respond.
Social networks have shifted their business models from “supporting users’ activities to monetizing them,” said three FTC commissioners who voted to approve the order.
Large tech companies now follow users “everywhere,” through mobile apps. They know everything from where people are going, what they are doing, and whom they are interacting with. The FTC wants more transparency in these practices and is seeking information from some of the largest tech companies.
The commission reportedly voted 4-1 to approve the order, with Commissioner Noah Joshua Phillips dissenting. He suggested that the investigation is too broad and would waste the agency’s resources. Phillips also didn’t like that the order ignores competing companies that operate similarly, such as Apple, LinkedIn, and WeChat. FTC’s actions, meanwhile, have got support from consumer technology advocacy group Public Knowledge.
FTC asks Facebook and others to turn up information on their privacy practices
This is not the first time regulatory bodies have targeted big tech companies over their data collection and privacy practices. The FTC itself has filed an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook over its acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp. That lawsuit is also joined by more than 40 states.
YouTube parent Google, meanwhile, is facing an antitrust suit from the Department of Justice and several state AGs. Amazon, Twitter, and TikTok, of course, has also been in the thick of these privacy concerns from government authorities.
Amid all this, the FTC has now launched yet another inquiry into several tech biggies. This is just an investigative inquiry but should the agency find and wrongful behavior, it could pursue law enforcement actions. But, as always, the companies are confident that they aren’t doing anything wrong or unethical.
“We’re working, as we always do, to ensure the FTC has the information it needs to understand how Twitter operates its services,” Twitter said in a statement.
“Discord takes user privacy very seriously and we look forward to working with the FTC to answer their questions about our privacy practices,” a Discord spokesperson said.