As it closed out 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent out requests to nine social media and video streaming companies asking them to provide more information about how they treat consumer information. The FTC indicated that it wanted to learn more about the companies’ activities in order to inform the FTC’s approach to privacy and data security. The FTC, in particular, is focused on how the privacy practices of these entities affect children and teenagers. The FTC exercised its authority under a provision of the law that allows it to gather information generally from a particular company or industry (without bringing a specific action against the company or industry). One FTC commissioner did dissent, arguing that the request the FTC made of these companies was too broad.

In making its requests, the FTC indicated concern that the digital products produced by social media and video streaming companies are “capable of surveilling and monetizing so much of our personal lives.” It asked the companies to respond to almost 20 pages of questions regarding their information collection and online advertising practices. The questions the FTC asked are quite specific, and they vary from numbers of registered users and age ranges of registered users to the details around algorithms or metrics used to determine whether a user is a child or a teenager. While companies can request an extension or ask that responses be limited, they will have 45 days (or approximately until the end of January 2021) to respond if they do not take such steps.

Putting it Into Practice: These orders signal FTC concern with the collection of information from minors on social media and video streaming platforms. Based on past practice, we anticipate further activity this year from the FTC on this front.