US FTC digs into Big Tech’s centralized reservoirs of user data

As antitrust enforcement hits Facebook and Google, the Federal Trade Commission is digging into misuse of consumer data.

The United States Federal Trade Commission is making the giants of social media account for their user data practices.

On December 11, the FTC published orders for special reports from unnamed social media companies. The commission’s stated aim for the reports is:

“To compile data concerning the privacy policies, procedures, and practices of Social Media and Video Streaming Service providers, including the method and manner in which they collect, use, store, and disclose information about users and their devices.”

The initial orders, however, did not include the names of the companies involved. On Monday, the FTC publicized that the orders were aimed at many of the usual suspects: Amazon, TikTok’s parent firm ByteDance, Discord, Facebook (and, separately, subsidiary WhatsApp), Reddit, Snapchat, Twitter, and YouTube.

The commission voted 4-1 in favor of issuing these orders, with only Commissioner Noah Phillips dissenting. Phillips’ main criticism was the scope of the requests: “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.”

The Federal Trade Commission Act’s article 6(b) authorizes non-enforcement subpoenas, so the news of these recent orders does not necessarily mean that these social media platforms are going to see any legal action. However, Big Tech has been in the crosshairs of FTC enforcement. The commission filed suit against Facebook just last week, though a representative for the commission denied any relationship between the two actions in an email to Cointelegraph. 

The listed companies have been subject to other legal actions as well, with the CEOs of Twitter and Facebook defending themselves before Congress several times this year, and President Trump trying to get ByteDance to sell TikTok to an American firm. Cointelegraph has noted that this may all be good news for decentralized alternatives. 

The firms will have 45 days to respond to the FTC’s request. A representative for the FTC told Cointelegraph that those responses will not be made public. 

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