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FTC Chairman Khan plans major work on children’s online privacy

WASHINGTON – The head of the Federal Trade Commission says the agency is driving a robust agenda of actions and policies to protect children’s privacy online.

Ongoing work includes strengthening enforcement of a long-standing law governing children’s online privacy and examining the algorithms used by social media platforms targeting young people.

“Children’s privacy is hugely important and we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can… to vigorously protect children’s privacy and protect them from data breaches,” said Lina Khan, who has headed the consumer protection agency for the past year. She spoke to The Associated Press in an interview via Zoom on Wednesday.

Parents’ concerns about the impact of social media on children have deepened across the country. Frances Haugen, a former Facebook data scientist, stunned Congress and the public last fall, when it brought to light internal company research that appeared to show serious harm to some teens from Facebook’s Instagram platform.

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These revelations followed Senators grill executives from YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat about what they are doing to keep young users safe following suicides and other harms to teenagers attributed by their parents to using the platforms.

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

The FTC recently warned it will take action against educational technology companies if they illegally monitor children when they go online to learn. The agency found that it’s against the law for companies to force parents to “give up their children’s privacy rights to do schoolwork online or attend classes remotely.”

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

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The 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 Protection Act prohibits companies from asking children for more information than is necessary and restricts the use of students’ personal information for marketing purposes.

In March, among a series of other enforcement actions, the FTC required WW International, formerly known as Weight Watchers, in a settlement to delete information illegally collected from children under the age of 13 and algorithms developed by the company’s weight-loss app for aged children were considered eight. The company also paid a $1.5 million penalty.

President Joe Biden has stunned official Washington about a year ago when he installed Khan, a vocal critic of Big Tech, then a law professor, as head of the FTC. That signaled a tough stance from the government on giants Facebook (its parent company is now Meta Platforms), Google, Amazon and Apple, which were already under pressure from Congress, Attorneys General and European regulators.

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At 33, Khan is the youngest chairman in the 107-year history of the FTC, an independent agency with five commissioners and around 1,200 staff. The agency’s mandate is broad – it oversees 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 as he had no administrative experience or knowledge of the agency other than a stint as legal counsel to one of the five commissioners for part of 2018.

However, she had intellectual weight that translated into political traction. Khan entered the antitrust scene in 2017 with her massive scholarly work as a Yale law student, Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox. She helped lay the groundwork for a new way of looking at antitrust law, going beyond the impact of large corporate dominance on consumer prices. This school of thought seems to have had a strong influence on Biden.

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During Khan’s tenure, the FTC sharpened itss Antitrust attack against Facebook in federal court, which accuses the social media giant of abusing its dominant position to suppress competition, and is widely believed to be conducting a competition investigation into e-commerce giant Amazon. According to experts, possible areas of focus are Amazon’s cloud computing business and its recent $8.4 billion acquisition of film studio MGM. Last year, Amazon asked Khan to withdraw from antitrust investigations against the company because she had publicly criticized its market power in the past. The investigation is reportedly being led by the agency’s deputy director of competition, John Newman.

In the interview, Khan addressed the importance of big-tech antitrust cases in general, as she neither confirms nor denies an investigation against Amazon.

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“These are products and services that Americans use and rely on in their daily lives, and we want to be sure that the incumbents aren’t suffocating and crowding out the competitors,” she said.

As the companies grow by buying out competitors and abusing their market position, she said, “They can get, in a way, too big to care – and start imposing all sorts of terms and contract terms on consumers.”

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

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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/09/ftc-chair-khan-plans-key-work-on-kids-data-privacy-online/ FTC Chairman Khan plans major work on children’s online privacy

Sarah Y. Kim

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