FTC Launches Investigation Into Privacy and Data Collection of Streaming Video, Social Giants

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TikTok, YouTube, Amazon, Facebook, Snap and Twitter are among the companies that the FTC has asked to provide information.

The Federal Trade Commission is asking some of the world's biggest social media and streaming video giants to hand over information regarding their privacy and data practices.

The FTC has issued orders to Amazon, Facebook, TikTok owner ByteDance, YouTube, Twitter, Snap, Discord and WhatsApp asking for a variety of information, including how they collect personal data; how they determine what ads are shown to consumers; whether algorithms or other analytics are applied to personal information; how they measure user engagement; and how their practices impact children and teenagers.

The orders were filed pursuant to Section 6(b) of the FTC Act, which gives the FTC the authority "to conduct wide-ranging studies that do not have a specific law enforcement purpose."

The Commission voted 4-1 to send the letters, with Republican commissioner Noah Joshua Phillips the lone "no" vote.

These types of studies, while not necessarily tied to specific investigations, can lead to more formal inquiries down the line, depending on what information is uncovered in the course of the study. The companies will have 45 days to submit the information requested by the FTC.

"The Commission’s 6(b) study will lift the hood on the social media and video streaming firms to carefully study their engines," said FTC commissioners Rebecca Slaughter, Christine Wilson and Rohit Chopra, in a statement. "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. It is alarming that we still know so little about companies that know so much about us."

"The breadth of the inquiry, the tangential relationship of its parts, and the dissimilarity of the recipients combine to render these orders unlikely to produce the kind of information the public needs, and certain to divert scarce Commission resources better directed elsewhere," wrote Phillips in his dissent.