FTC demands Amazon, Facebook and others explain their privacy practices

Twitter, Discord, TikTok owner ByteDance and YouTube are also among the subjects of a study.

The Federal Trade Commission has ordered nine social media and video streaming companies to provide details about their privacy practices, including how they collect and use personal information. It has also asked Amazon, TikTok owner ByteDance, Discord, Facebook, Reddit, Snap, Twitter, WhatsApp and YouTube to submit data on advertising and user engagement, and explain how their activities affect kids and teens. From the day they receive the order, the companies have 45 days to respond.

The agency has the authority "to conduct wide-ranging studies that do not have a specific law enforcement purpose." As Axios notes, data collected in such studies could pave the way for legal proceedings if officials unearth actionable information.

The FTC is demanding information on “how social media and video streaming services collect, use, track, estimate, or derive personal and demographic information; how they determine which ads and other content are shown to consumers; whether they apply algorithms or data analytics to personal information; how they measure, promote, and research user engagement; and how their practices affect children and teens.”

Commissioners voted 4-1 to issue the orders. Commissioners Rohit Chopra, Rebecca Kelly Slaughter and Christine S. Wilson wrote in a joint statement that the study will "lift the hood on the social media and video streaming firms to carefully study their engines. As concerns mount regarding the impact of the tech companies on Americans’ privacy and behavior, this study is timely and important."

Commissioner Noah Joshua Phillips, who voted against the measure, argued in a dissenting statement that the orders constitute "an undisciplined foray into a wide variety of topics, some only tangentially related to the stated focus of this investigation. 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."

Regulators have been focusing more intensely on major tech companies in recent times. Just last week, the FTC and 48 attorneys general filed antitrust charges against Facebook.