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12/14/2020

FTC probes data practices of nine social media giants

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is studying how leading social media and video streaming companies, including Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok parent ByteDance, collect and use consumer data.

The FTC is issuing orders to those four companies, as well as Twitter, Snap, Reddit, WhatsApp, and Discord, requiring them to provide data on how they collect, use, and present personal information, their advertising and user engagement practices, and how their practices affect children and teens. The orders are being sent under Section 6(b) of the FTC Act, which authorizes the FTC to conduct wide-ranging studies that do not have a specific law enforcement purpose.

The FTC has been actively investigating tech giants, particularly Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and YouTube parent Google, for the past few years. On Dec. 9, the agency filed a lawsuit against Facebook accusing it of maintaining an illegal monopoly. The FTC is also now scrutinizing the parent company of Chinese short video platform TikTok following a federal court’s rejection of a U.S. Commerce Department request to ban it in the U.S.

The companies will have 45 days from the date they receive the order to respond. Specific information the FTC is seeking includes how social media and video streaming services collect, use, track, estimate, or derive personal and demographic information; how they determine which ads and other content are shown to consumers; and whether they apply algorithms or data analytics to personal information.

In addition, the FTC wants to know how leading social media and video streaming platforms measure, promote, and research user engagement; as well as how their practices affect children and teens. The commission voted four to one to issue the 6(b) orders to the nine social media and video service companies.