- The US Federal Trade Commission is ordering Amazon, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Discord, ByteDance, Reddit, Snap, and Twitter to show the agency how they collect and use people’s personal information online.
- The order is inquiring into how the firms track data and target online ads to consumers, whether they use algorithms to handle personal information, and how their online practices affect kids and teens.
- The companies have 45 days to respond to the order from the day they receive it.
- Lawmakers have increasingly signalled that they intend to crack down on tech companies, and public discourse has centered around holding the companies more accountable.
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The US Federal Trade Commission is ordering nine tech companies to provide data to the federal agency on how they collect and use people’s personal information in what is a sweeping crackdown on targeted data tracking.
The FTC’s order affects Amazon, TikTok’s China-based parent ByteDance, Discord, Facebook, the Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp, Reddit, Snap, Twitter, and Google-owned YouTube, according to a Monday press release.
The agency is specifically inquiring as to how social media and video streaming services use and track personal and demographic information, how they target online ads to consumers, how they use algorithms to handle personal information, how they measure and promote user engagement, and how their online practices affect kids and teens.
The companies have 45 days to respond to the demands from the day that they receive the FTC’s order. According to Axios, which first reported the news, the FTC probe could result in regulatory action.
Six of the companies impacted by the order did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment. A Twitter spokesperson in a statement to Business Insider said, “We’re working, as we always do, to ensure the FTC has the information it needs to understand how Twitter operates its services.” A Reddit spokesperson said the company is also “looking forward to working with the FTC and sharing with them our user privacy policies and practices.”
A Discord spokesperson said the company “takes user privacy very seriously and we look forward to working with the FTC to answer their questions about our privacy practices. Importantly, there are no ads on Discord. We make no money from advertising, selling user data to advertisers, or sharing users’ personal information with others.”
The FTC’s order comes as governmental agencies show an increasing indication that they intend to crack down on the tech industry, which has largely enjoyed little oversight in its history. The agency filed a lawsuit last week against Facebook, accusing the company of stifling competition by acquiring would-be competitors WhatsApp and Instagram, and Google was hit with a lawsuit from the DOJ in October over its dominance in the search and online ad market.
Internet platforms’ handling of online users’ data has come into sharper focus since the Cambridge Analytica scandal when the political data-analytics firm improperly harvested personal information from over 87 million Facebook users. The information was later used as part of political campaigns.
Scrutiny of the tech industry has since mounted, and lawmakers in the US and overseas have moved to introduce regulations designed to hold the companies accountable.
The EU successfully implemented new data privacy regulation in mid-2018. The General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, impacts any company â€” whether it’s based in the EU or outside of it â€” that wishes to use an EU’s citizen’s data. It allows those users to demand that companies delete their data if they so wish, as well as inquiring as to how and why their data is being processed.