Dec 14, 2020 - Technology

Scoop: FTC launches sweeping privacy study of top tech platforms

A photo of a smartphone depicting a password screen for a privacy protection feature
Photo: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Federal Trade Commission will announce Monday that it's launching a new inquiry into the privacy and data collection practices of major tech firms including Amazon, TikTok owner ByteDance, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook as well as its subsidiary WhatsApp, Axios has learned.

The big picture: The move comes amid broader scrutiny for the industry and appears to be a wide-reaching inquiry into everything major tech companies know about their users and what they do with that data, as well as their broader business plans.

Details: The FTC is asking for a large trove of information and documents from the above platforms, plus Discord, Reddit and Snap.

  • The agency wants much of the usage and engagement data the platforms collect on their users, the metrics they use for measuring such things and short- and long-term business strategies, among many other areas of inquiry.

Background: In launching the study, the FTC is using its authority to do wide-ranging studies for no specific law enforcement purpose.

  • With this study, the commission particularly wants to look into how tech's privacy and data practices affect children and teens, according to a release seen by Axios.
  • Republican Commissioner Christine Wilson had pushed for such a study last fall.

The intrigue: The agency's five commissioners voted 4-1 to issue the orders, with Republican commissioner Noah Phillips dissenting, saying the probe was too expansive.

Between the lines: The FTC uses these types of studies to gather data that can later lead to enforcement actions, should they encounter any wrongdoing.

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