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FTC steps up investigation into tech firms and privacy


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December work slowdown? Not for the Federal Trade Commission in the US there isn’t. Having sued Facebook for ‘illegal monopolisation’ earlier this month, now the FTC is stepping up its investigation into how the social network and eight other tech/social companies collect and use data on their users.

Besides Facebook, orders have been issued to Amazon, ByteDance (for TikTok), Discord, Reddit, Snap, Twitter, WhatsApp and YouTube demanding 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 companies have 45 days to provide those responses.

“Never before has there been an industry capable of surveilling and monetizing so much of our personal lives. Social media and video streaming companies now follow users everywhere through apps on their always-present mobile devices. This constant access allows these firms to monitor where users go, the people with whom they interact, and what they are doing,” announced three of the FTC commissioners involved in the probe.

“But to what end? Is this surveillance used to build psychological profiles of users? Predict their behavior? Manipulate experiences to generate ad sales? Promote content to capture attention or shape discourse? Too much about the industry remains dangerously opaque… As concerns mount regarding the impact of the tech companies on Americans’ privacy and behavior, this study is timely and important.”

It’s just another sign of the regulatory climate for the big technology companies and social platforms, as we head into 2021. Talking of which… today will see new rules unveiled for data usage in the European Union, with Bloomberg getting an early look at a draft on how ‘gatekeeper’ technology companies will be regulated. Google, Amazon and Apple are among those mentioned.

Something to keep an eye on: the report suggests that gatekeepers will be defined by “the number of users in the millions and overall revenue in the billions of dollars, as well as their significant impact on the single market”, and that among the no-nos will be “treating their own services more favourably in rankings”. Given its size and ever-growing catalogue of own-brand playlists and podcasts, Spotify will be watching that gatekeeper definition closely too.

 

Image by Nopparat Khokthong / Shutterstock.com

Stuart Dredge

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