Consumer rights

FTC Chairman Khan Plans Key Work on Children’s Online Privacy | New Policies

By MARCY GORDON, AP Business Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — The head of the Federal Trade Commission said the agency is advancing a strong agenda of actions and policies to help protect children’s privacy online.

Ongoing work will include stronger enforcement of a long-standing law governing children’s online privacy and monitoring the algorithms used by social media platforms targeting young people.

“Children’s privacy is extremely important and we want to make sure we are doing everything we can … to vigorously protect children’s privacy and protect them from data abuse,” said Lina Khan, who led the consumer protection agency for one year. . She spoke in a Zoom interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Across the country, parental concern has intensified about the impact of social media on children. Frances Haugen, a former Facebook data scientist, stunned Congress and the public last fall when she highlighted internal company research showing seemingly severe harm to some teens from the Instagram platform. from Facebook.

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These revelations were followed by senators who questioned the leaders of YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat about what they were doing to keep young users safe in the wake of suicides and other harm caused to teenagers by their parents due to of their use of the platforms.

The recent wave of mass shootings has also highlighted the power of social media and its influence on young people.

The FTC recently warned that it would crack down on edtech companies if they unlawfully monitor children as they go online to learn. The agency noted that it is illegal for companies to require parents “to waive their children’s right to privacy in order to do their homework online or attend classes remotely.”

Khan said Wednesday that the FTC had heard complaints from parents who, when the pandemic hit in 2020, suddenly had to make that choice.

So-called edtech companies have apps and websites that are used by hundreds of thousands of students in school districts nationwide. The Children’s Online Privacy Act prohibits companies from requiring children to provide more information than necessary and limits the use of students’ personal data for marketing purposes.

Among a host of other enforcement actions, the FTC in March asked WW International, formerly known as Weight Watchers, to remove information illegally collected from children under 13 and algorithms developed by the company’s weight loss app for kids this young. like eight. The company also paid a $1.5 million fine.

About a year ago, President Joe Biden stunned the Washington official when he named Khan, a vocal critic of Big Tech then a law schoolteacher, head of the FTC. It signaled a tough government stance on giants Facebook (its parent is now Meta Platforms), Google, Amazon and Apple, which have already come under pressure from Congress, state attorneys general and European regulators.

At 33, Khan is the youngest chairman in the 107-year history of the FTC, an independent agency with five commissioners and about 1,200 employees. The agency’s mandate is broad – it governs competition and consumer protection as well as digital privacy – and under Khan it has been active on all fronts. Khan was an unorthodox choice for Biden, with no administrative experience or knowledge of the agency other than a stint during part of 2018 as legal counsel to one of the five commissioners.

She did, however, have intellectual clout that translated into political traction. Khan burst onto the antitrust scene in 2017 with her massive academic work as a Yale law student, Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox. She helped lay the groundwork for a new way of looking at competition law beyond the impact of market dominance by large firms on consumer prices. This school of thought seems to have had a strong influence on Biden.

During Khan’s tenure, the FTC escalated its antitrust attack on Facebook in federal court, accusing the social media giant of abusing its dominant market position to stifle competition, and is widely believed to be waging a competition investigation against e-commerce giant Amazon. According to experts, possible areas of interest are Amazon’s cloud computing business and its recent $8.4 billion acquisition of the MGM movie studio. Amazon last year asked Khan to withdraw from antitrust investigations into the company because of his past public criticism of its market power. The investigation would be led by the agency’s deputy competition director, John Newman.

In the interview, Khan spoke about the importance of Big Tech antitrust cases in general, as she neither confirms nor denies an investigation into Amazon.

“These are products and services that Americans use and rely on in their daily lives, and we want to make sure incumbents don’t stifle and crowd out competitors,” she said.

When companies grow by buying up competitors and abusing their market position, she said, “they can in some ways become too big to care – and start imposing all sorts of terms and contractual conditions to consumers”.

Follow Marcy Gordon at https://twitter.com/mgordonap

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