Dec. 15 (UPI) — In an effort to “lift the hood” on the practices of social media companies, online retailers and streaming services, the Federal Trade Commission on Monday issued orders to nine big technology companies requiring them to provide data on how they collect personal information and how the services affect children and teens.
The FTC also asked about advertising and user engagement practices for Amazon.com, TikTok, Discord, Facebook, Reddit, Snap, Twitter, WhatsApp and YouTube.
The agency acted under Section 6(b) of the FTC Act, which authorizes the commission to conduct “wide-ranging studies that do not have a specific law enforcement purpose,” the FTC said in a statement Monday. The companies will have 45 days from the date they received the order to respond.
The FTC order seeks to lift the veil on how social media and video streaming services collect and track personal and demographic information, and how they feed advertisements to users. They also seek highly secret mechanisms such as how algorithms are applied to personal information and how the companies market to children and teenagers.
“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,” commissioners Rohit Chopra, Rebecca Kelly Slaughter and Christine S. Wilson said in a statement. “It is alarming that we still know so little about companies that know so much about us.”
The study will “lift the hood on the social media and video streaming firms to carefully study their engines,” commissioners added. “As concerns mount regarding the impact of the tech companies on Americans’ privacy and behavior, this study is timely and important.”
One dissenting opinion was made by Commissioner Noah Joshua Phillips, who cast the sole “no” in a 4-1 vote.
Phillips called the order “sprawling and scattershot” and said the commission demanded information from nine companies in order to fall below a threshold in the federal Paperwork Reduction Act. Phillips said it would be hard for the commission to summarize information gleaned from the order because the tech companies have different “business models” and the commission would have a hard time anonymizing the results.
On Wednesday, the FTC joined a group of 48 states and territories to file an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook accusing the company of anticompetitive actions in its acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp.