- The Washington Times - Monday, December 14, 2020

The Federal Trade Commission said Monday that it ordered nine social media and video-streaming companies to hand over data on the information they gather and store from their users.

The FTC sent the orders to Amazon; ByteDance, which owns TikTok; Discord; WhatsApp and its owner Facebook; Reddit; Snap Inc.; Twitter; and YouTube, which is owned by Google.

FTC Commissioners Christine Wilson, Rebecca Kelly Slaughter and Rohit Chopra said they want to know how many users the companies have and how they track them, how the companies process data, how the companies infer users’ anticipated behavior and how they influence Americans’ actions.

“Despite their central role in our daily lives, the decisions that prominent online platforms make regarding consumers and consumer data remain shrouded in secrecy. Critical questions about business models, algorithms, and data collection and use have gone unanswered,” said Ms. Wilson, Ms. Slaughter and Mr. Chopra in a statement. “Policymakers and the public are in the dark about what social media and video streaming services do to capture and sell users’ data and attention. It is alarming that we still know so little about companies that know so much about us.”

The FTC said the nine companies will have 45 days to respond to the orders it issued Monday.

FTC Commissioner Noah Joshua Phillips dissented from his colleagues’ decision to order the companies to provide data and labeled the orders an “undisciplined foray into a wide variety of topics.”

“The actions undertaken today trade a real opportunity to use scarce government resources to advance public understanding of consumer data privacy practices — critical to informing ongoing policy discussions in the United States and internationally — for the appearance of action on a litany of gripes with technology companies,” Mr. Phillips said in a statement. “The breadth of the inquiry, the tangential relationship of its parts, and the dissimilarity of the recipients combine to render these orders unlikely to produce the kind of information the public needs, and certain to divert scarce Commission resources better directed elsewhere.”

Mr. Phillips also said the orders neglected to include other companies that the FTC could have chosen to examine — such as Apple, LinkedIn, and Parler — and provided unclear logic for how it determined which companies to pursue.

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