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US regulators open privacy probes into tech giants

data protection

The US has ordered nine tech companies including Amazon, Facebook and TikTok to hand over information as part of a new review of consumer privacy.

The study is intended to help regulators understand what data the companies collect and how that information is used, especially to target children.

It is the latest effort by the US government to respond to concerns about tech giants' influence.

The companies have 45 days to comply.

Officials on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a federal regulator focused on consumers, voted 4-1 to launch the inquiry.

"It is alarming that we still know so little about companies that know so much about us," the four commissioners supporting the move said in a statement.

"Given how much these companies rely on the organization and analysis of data as a core underpinning of their business models, we expect that compliance with this order will be expeditious and comprehensive."

The nine social media and video streaming companies include Facebook and its subsidiary WhatsApp, YouTube, China's ByteDance, owner of TikTok, Amazon's Twitch, as well as Snap, Twitter, Reddit, and Discord.

"We're working, as we always do, to ensure the FTC has the information it needs to understand how Twitter operates its services," a Twitter spokesperson said.

The other companies did not immediately comment.

'Appearance of action'? Google and Amazon last week were hit with fines by French consumer privacy watchdog.

But American regulators have long lagged their counterparts in Europe when it comes to confronting tech giants on questions of privacy.

In recent years, politicians and others have increasingly pressed the FTC and others to take a more active approach.

The order issued on Monday comes just days after the FTC announced it was taking Facebook to court for actions it has taken to stay ahead of its rivals. The agency accused the firm of violating competition laws, arguing the public had been harmed, including by the erosion of data privacy.

Last year Facebook paid $5bn to resolve an FTC privacy inquiry triggered by concerns about data collection by political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

Commissioner Noah Phillips, the lone voter against launching the inquiry, said the privacy review announced on Monday was too broad and unlikely to yield results.

"The actions undertaken today trade a real opportunity to use scarce government resources to advance public understanding of consumer data privacy practices—critical to informing ongoing policy discussions in the United States and internationally—for the appearance of action on a litany of gripes with technology companies," he said.

This article was originally published by bbc.com.

We updated our privacy policy as of February 24, 2020. Learn about our personal information collection practices here.