The FTC Strikes Again

Remember last week when we talked about the new avalanche of lawsuits against Facebook? Well it gets worse for the social media giant (whether or not it’s better for us remains to be seen). Yesterday, the FTC made a move that could signal future regulation of data handling: They demanded all of it. The data, that is.

Facebook, Amazon, Discord, TikTok parent company ByteDance, Reddit, WhatsApp, Snap, Twitter, and YouTube all have 45 days to hand over full details about how they handle user data. Those details include whether or not algorithms are used on personal information, how user engagement is measured and promoted, and (the question we’ve all wondered the answer to) how they determine what advertising to show you.

In February, the FTC conducted a full review of past mergers by Google parent Alphabet, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft. And while companies are usually required to submit proposals for any mergers or acquisitions that pass a certain threshold, this review was aimed at the smaller acquisitions that can go unnoticed by the FTC. It’s those mergers that, when viewed in toto, paint a picture of massive companies inexorably absorbing all competitors. And that, of course, is the basis of last week’s 48-state antitrust lawsuit against Facebook.

So all of this means the days of unfettered growth (and unchecked data collection) might be coming to an end. Eventually. I mean, the pace of law and legislation is positively glacial, so don’t expect movement too quickly.

In a statement, the FTC said they wanted to “lift the hood on the social media and video streaming firms to carefully study their engines.
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.”
They’re not wrong.

In addition to explaining how I got an ad for a beard groomer, the FTC also wants to find out how companies process the data they collect, what they learn about us, and how they specifically target children and families.

Lawyers for the giants of course called it a fishing expedition, and the Center for Democracy and Technology called it necessary.

Maybe they’re both right.

Look, it’s very possible that this astonishingly large data dump won’t yield anything we don’t already know, but even if it doesn’t, it builds a foundation for informed legislation, and a more informed public.

After all, they know everything there is to know about us.

Nutrient Dense

But not everyone is getting it totally wrong.

Even though I poke at Apple a little bit for being the massive power that it is (please don’t sue me, Mr Cook!), there’s no question they’re doing a better job on privacy than any other company their size. On December 8, the App Store’s new privacy rules went into effect, requiring developers to disclose exactly what information they and third-parties collect from users, and why.

And, like a nutrition label, users will be able to see at a glance what data an app is storing. If an app needs to know your exact location, it’ll tell you. If it’s accessing your camera, it’ll tell you.

This Just In

I was just finishing this when I read that today, a Texas-led group of ten states filed suit against Google, claiming that it “unlawfully acquired, attempted to acquire, or maintained a monopoly in several steps of the online ad market including both buy and sell-sides.”

What’s more, the filing alleges Google harmed competition by engaging in unlawful agreements to rig ad-pricing.

With Facebook.

Whom the filing refers to as co-conspirator.

Dang.

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