The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has officially launched an investigation into the user-privacy policies and data-collection practices of TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, and others.
FTC higher-ups recently unveiled the high-profile probe, which arrives less than one week after the U.S. government and 48 attorneys general filed a pair of much-publicized antitrust lawsuits against Facebook. The 106-year-old government agency’s commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the investigation, which involves nine social media platforms and streaming services: Amazon, TikTok owner ByteDance, Twitter, YouTube, Discord, Snapchat, Reddit, Facebook, and the latter’s WhatsApp subsidiary.
The FTC indicated in the release that these entities have 45 days (from yesterday) “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.” Moreover, the probe will specifically concern how the companies select ads for users, use algorithms and analytics on collected personal information and stats, and the practices’ impact on children and teenagers.
Three commissioners who voted in favor of the investigation, which the FTC is spearheading under Section 6(b) of 1914’s FTC Act, jointly issued a two-page-long statement on the matter. “The Federal Trade Commission’s decision to issue a section 6(b) study to assess the practices of social media and video streaming firms is just a step toward getting much-needed clarity,” Commissioners Chopra, Slaughter, and Wilson wrote.
The lone FTC commissioner to dissent, Noah Joshua Phillips, issued a five-page-long statement of his own, essentially indicating that while he supports the probe’s purported goals, the orders are in actuality “an undisciplined foray into a wide variety of topics, some only tangentially related to the stated focus of this investigation.”
Chairman Phillips, who began his term in May of 2018, proceeded to express the opinion that the orders “are not designed to generate useful information for the public,” with “the choice of recipients…not clear at all.” Some of the companies affected by the investigation “have strikingly different business models,” and the likes of Apple, LinkedIn, Parler, Rumble, and the Tencent-owned WeChat are omitted from the orders.
“The biggest problem is that today’s 6(b) orders simply cover too many topics to make them likely to result in the production of comparable, usable information,” stated Chairman Phillips. “The orders issued today will allow the Commission to say it is asking a large number of important questions of a number (nine) of high-profile companies. At the end of the day, however, these orders make us unlikely to be able to answer those questions.”
TikTok is still facing a massive, privacy-related class-action suit, which follows a child-privacy class-action complaint that it settled for $1.1 million in late 2019. Moreover, the controversial app’s owner paid the FTC a record $5.7 million fine earlier in 2019, for allegedly violating 1998’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which went into effect in 2000.