The Federal Trade Commission on Monday announced it was issuing orders to nine of the most popular social media and streaming platforms in the U.S., requiring them to offer up intel on business practices ranging from data collection to advertising, to the way that user engagement gets tracked overtime.
The orders issued to Amazon, Discord, Facebook, Reddit, Snap, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube, and TikTok parent company Bytedance, aren’t intended for any specific regulatory action. Rather, the inquiries are meant to be part of a wide-ranging study examining how each of these companies treats consumer privacy.
As Axios, which first reported news of the FTC probe, points out, just because this initiative lacks a specific goal doesn’t mean it is inconsequential. These types of inquiries, specifically known as 6(b) orders, have been used in the past to gather data that can be used in later investigations. Back in February, for example, the FTC issued separate 6(b) orders to players like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and others as part of the agency’s ongoing investigations into these companies’ potentially anticompetitive behavior.
The orders announced on Monday specifically ask for details regarding:
- 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.
On top of all this, the FTC order also seeks to understand how all of the above practices specifically impact kids and teens. Each of the companies named above have 45 days from the day they first received the order to respond with the intel in question.
“An effort by the FTC to systematically study the data collection and business practices of the largest technology platforms is long overdue,” Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, said in a statement, praising the FTC’s effort to bring “sunlight to what has far too long been an opaque market, vulnerable to abuse, digital ad fraud, and consumer harm.”