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Online platforms are required to explain what they do with user data

December 15, 2020

The Federal Trade Commission requires internet platforms to share details about how they harness user data and what they do with the information.

The platforms include Amazon, Facebook, TikTok, WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, Discord and Reddit, asking for an explanation of what you do with your user data.

The Federal Trade Commission has sent requests to internet platforms to provide them with details about data-gathering and advertising practices, and the platforms have 45 days to respond to the request.

The agency said in a statement: The Federal Trade Commission is seeking to find out how the platforms collect data about users, how they decide which ads to display, and how to use algorithms, among other information.

The agency also seeks information on how corporate practices affect children and teens.

Two Democratic members of the committee wrote in a joint statement: There was never before an industry able to monitor and monetise much of our personal lives, while the platforms now follow users everywhere through apps within the always-on mobile devices.

They added: This constant access to these platforms allows them to monitor where users go, who they interact with and what they do, and much about the industry remains seriously ambiguous.

The commission's request is the latest step for federal regulators against large tech companies and trying to monitor their activities.

Increased scrutiny this year prompted the platforms to answer questions about improper uses of consumer data and violations of federal antitrust law.

The order comes just one week after the Federal Trade Commission and 48 prosecutors across the country filed lawsuits against Facebook, accusing it of an illegal monopoly, and the company denied the allegation.

The committee wants technology companies to detail how many users each company has, how active they are, and what is known about them as well.

The inquiry also asks the platforms to deliver information on how the data collected is processed, and how advertising and engagement practices affect young and underage users.

Lawmakers, civil rights groups and consumers have put large tech companies under the spotlight this year.

The Wall Street Journal reported how the apps shared user information with Facebook, and the newspaper also revealed that Amazon was collecting data from independent vendors and using it to build its own competing products.

In August, parents of dozens of minors filed a lawsuit against TikTok, claiming that the app collects information about users' faces, locations, and their close contacts.

The lawsuit alleges that the company is sending that data to servers in China without the users' knowledge and may share it with the Chinese Communist Party.

The Norwegian Consumer Council released a report in January showing that 10 apps collected sensitive information, including the user's exact location, religious and political beliefs, and other information.

The apps transferred personal data to at least 135 different third-party companies.