WASHINGTON (AP) — The chairman of the Federal Trade Commission says the agency is advancing a clear agenda of actions and policies to help protect children’s online privacy.
Ongoing work will include strengthening enforcement of the long-standing law governing children’s online privacy and examining the algorithms used by social media platforms that target young people.
“Children’s privacy is extremely important, and we want to make sure we’re 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 a year. She said this in a Zoom interview with the Associated Press agency on Wednesday.
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Across the country, parental concerns about the impact of social media on children have increased. Frances Haugen, a former Facebook data scientist, stunned Congress and the public last fall when she released internal company research that showed apparent serious harm to some teenagers through Facebook’s Instagram platform.
Following the revelations, senators began criticizing YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat executives for what they are doing to keep young users safe after suicides and other harm to teens that their parents attribute to their use of the platforms.
The recent spate of mass shootings has also highlighted the power of social media and its influence on young people.
The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently warned that it will crack down on education technology companies if they illegally monitor children when they go online to learn. The agency said companies are prohibited from forcing parents to “give up their children’s privacy rights in order to complete schoolwork online or attend classes remotely.”
Hahn said Wednesday that the FTC has heard complaints from parents who, when the pandemic hit in 2020, were forced to make sudden choices.
So-called edtech companies have apps and websites that are used by hundreds of thousands of students in school districts across the country. The Children’s Online Privacy Act prohibits companies from asking children to provide more information than necessary and limits the use of students’ personal data for marketing purposes.
Among other enforcement actions, the FTC in March required WW International, formerly Weight Watchers, to delete information it illegally collected from children under 13, as well as algorithms developed by the company’s weight-loss app for younger children. like eight The company also paid a fine of $1.5 million.
President Joe Biden stunned official Washington about a year ago when he appointed Hahn, a vigorous critic of Big Tech who was then teaching law, to head the FTC. It signaled the government’s tough stance on giants Facebook (its parent company is now called Meta Platforms), Google, Amazon and Apple, which have already come under pressure from Congress, state attorneys general and European regulators.
At 33, Hahn is the youngest chairman in the 107-year history of the FTC, an independent agency with five members and about 1,200 employees. The agency’s mandate is broad — it oversees competition and consumer protection, as well as digital privacy — and has been active on all fronts under Khan. Hahn was an unorthodox choice for Biden, with no administrative experience or knowledge of the agency other than serving for part of 2018 as legal counsel to one of the five members of the Commission.
However, she had intellectual power, which resulted in political power. Khan burst onto the antitrust scene in 2017 with her major research paper, The Amazon Antitrust Paradox, while a student at Yale University. It helped lay the groundwork for a new way of looking at antitrust law outside the influence of large companies’ dominance of the consumer price market. It seems that this school had a strong influence on Biden.
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During Khan’s tenure, the FTC has stepped up its antitrust attack against Facebook in federal court, accusing the social networking giant of abusing its market dominance to stifle competition, and is believed to be conducting a competition investigation into e-commerce giant Amazon. Amazon’s cloud computing business and its recent $8.4 billion acquisition of MGM film studio are possible areas of focus, according to experts. Last year, Amazon asked Khan to drop an antitrust investigation into the company because of her past public criticism of its market power. The agency’s deputy director of competition, John Newman, is reportedly leading the investigation.
In the interview, Khan mentioned the importance of Big Tech antitrust cases in general, as she would neither confirm nor deny the Amazon investigation.
“These are products and services that Americans use and rely on in their daily lives, and we want to make sure that leading companies don’t stifle or crowd out competitors,” she said.
As companies grow by buying up competitors and abusing their market position, she said, “In a sense, they can get too big to care — and start imposing all kinds of terms and conditions on consumers.”