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Updated Wednesday at 6:30 a.m.ET
The Federal Trade Commission is requiring nine social media and tech companies to share details about how they mine user data and what they do with the information.
Amazon.com, the owner of TikTok ByteDance, Discord, Facebook, Reddit, Snap, Twitter, WhatsApp (also owned by Facebook) and YouTube received orders from the FTC on Monday to provide the commission with details of their data collection and their advertising practices. Companies have 45 days to respond to the order.
In a statement to NPR, a representative for Discord said it “takes user privacy very seriously” and the company looks forward to answering questions from the FTC. They added that the company does not make money from advertising, selling user data, or sharing users’ personal information with others.
Representatives for the other companies did not respond to NPR’s request for comment.
The investigation is the latest move by federal regulators to crack the whip on Big Tech in an attempt to monitor their activities. The increased scrutiny by federal and state officials this year has pushed major websites and social media apps to respond to perceived inappropriate uses of consumer data and violations of federal anti-monopoly law.
The order comes just a week after the FTC and 48 attorneys general across the country filed lawsuits against Facebook, accusing the social media giant of illegally maintaining a monopoly. The company denied this claim.
The FTC’s information request covers a wide area to “understand how business models influence what Americans hear and see, who they talk to, and what information they share.” The agency uses its authority under Section 6 (b) of the FTC Act, which allows it to undertake separate general studies of law enforcement.
“Critical questions about business models, algorithms and the collection and use of data remain unanswered. Policymakers and the public don’t know what social media and video streaming services are doing to capture and sell user data and attention, ”Rohit Chopra, FTC Commissioners. , Rebecca Slaughter and Christine Wilson said in a statement. “It is alarming that we still know so little about the companies that know so much about us.”
The commission wants tech companies to detail how many users each company has, how active they are and what else is known about them. The survey also asks social media and video streaming companies to provide information on how they handle the data collected and the impact of advertising and engagement practices on young underage users.
Commissioners voted to issue Monday’s orders by a 4-1 vote. Republican Commissioner Noah Joshua Phillips has expressed his dissent.
In a statement, Phillips wrote: “The breadth of the investigation, the tangential relationship of its parts, and the dissimilarity of the recipients combine to make these commands unlikely to produce the kind of information the public needs, and some of diverting scarce resources from the Commission. better directed elsewhere. “
Big Tech Review
Lawmakers and civil and consumer rights groups have put Big Tech under the microscope this year in particular, following revelations showing questionable practices on the part of major websites and apps.
The Wall Street Journal reported on how apps share user information with Facebook. The newspaper also recently revealed that Amazon collects data from independent sellers and uses it to create its own competing products. Amazon executives have denied this.
This summer, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Google’s Sundar Pichai and Apple’s Tim Cook virtually testified before Congress on Silicon Valley’s perceived monopoly. Powerful.
During that hearing, Bezos acknowledged that the $ 1,000 billion company may have been misusing the data to hunt independent sellers. He said the company was under an internal investigation about it.
This year alone, there have been major lawsuits against technology companies. In addition to the large-scale lawsuit filed against Facebook last week, the US Department of Justice and 11 states have sued Google, alleging the company violated competition law.
The way these companies interact with underage users and the information gleaned from their activity have also been the subject of litigation.
In August, parents of dozens of minors sued TikTok in federal court, alleging that the popular video-sharing app collects information about their users’ facial features, locations and close contacts. The company then sends that data to servers in China without the users’ knowledge and potentially shares it with the Chinese Communist Party, according to the lawsuit.
The Trump administration views TikTok as a national security threat because the parent company is based in China, and it shares concerns that US-based user information is being collected by Beijing. TikTok denies the allegations but says it can share user information with its servers, if it wishes, without breaking US law.
Civil rights groups and consumer groups are urging regulators to go one step further and review popular dating apps Grindr, Tinder, and OKCupid.
The Norwegian Consumers Council released a report in January showing that 10 apps collected sensitive information, including a user’s exact location, sexual orientation, religious and political beliefs, drug use, and other information. as part of a practice called “data collection”. The apps then passed the personal data to at least 135 third-party companies.