On December 14, 2020, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it had issued orders to nine social media and video streaming companies, requesting information on how the companies collect, use and present personal information, their advertising and user engagement practices and how their practices affect children and teens. The orders will assist the FTC in conducting a study of these policies, practices and procedures. The FTC issued the orders pursuant to Section 6(b) of the FTC Act, which allows the agency to undertake broad studies separate from its law enforcement activities.

According to a statement by FTC Commissioners Chopra, Slaughter and Wilson, the FTC is concerned with the increased surveillance of individuals and monetization of consumers’ data, and the orders seek to “lift the hood on the social media and video streaming firms to carefully study their engines.” The FTC is particularly interested in learning about how these companies draw inferences about their users, how children and families are targeted and categorized and whether consumers are being subjected to “social engineering experiments.”

The orders are extremely detailed and contain nearly 50 substantive requests for a broad array of information, including:

  • how social media and video streaming services collect, use, track, estimate or derive personal and demographic information;
  • how they determine which ads and other content are shown to consumers;
  • how they apply algorithms or data analytics to personal information;
  • how they collect, infer or otherwise process demographic information about users;
  • how they measure, promote and research user engagement;
  • how they compete to attract, gain and retain users and increase user engagement; and
  • how their practices affect children and teens.

The companies have 45 days to respond to the orders.