FTC Hearings to Examine Greater Law Enforcement of Social Media Tech Companies

By Craig Bannister | September 12, 2018 | 3:55 PM EDT

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will begin holding a series of public hearings on Thursday, September 13, to examine the need for adjustments to competition and consumer protection law, enforcement priorities, and policy due to broad-based changes in new technologies, the economy, and business practices.

The hearings and public comment process will solicit input from interested persons and outside experts regarding the FTC’s near- and long-term law enforcement and policy agenda. The hearings may identify areas for enforcement and policy guidance, including improvements to the agency’s investigation and law enforcement processes.

The FTC’s announcement of reports that the hearings will, specifically, explore enforcement and consumer requirements regarding social media companies, particularly:

“Competition on privacy and data security attributes (between, for example, social media companies or app developers), and the importance of this competition to consumers and users; (c) whether consumers prefer free/ad-supported products to products offering similar services or capabilities but that are neither free nor ad-supported.”

The hearings will also examine the legality of social media platforms’ use of algorithms in their consumer products, specifically:

“The consumer welfare implications associated with the use of algorithmic decision tools, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics.

“Of particular interest to the Commission: (a) the welfare effects and privacy implications associated with the application of these technologies to consumer advertising and marketing campaigns; (b) the welfare implications associated with use of these technologies in the determination of a firm’s pricing and output decisions; and (c) whether restrictions on the use of computer and machine learning and data analytics affect innovation or consumer rights and opportunities in existing or future markets, or in the development of new business models.”

The hearings will begin in September 2018 and are expected to continue through January 2019, and will consist of 15 to 20 public sessions. All hearings will be webcast, transcribed, and placed on the public record.

Consumer-related topics include:

  • Privacy Regulation;
  • Consumer Welfare in Antitrust:
  • Vertical Mergers;
  • The Identification and Analysis of Collusive, Exclusionary, and Predatory Conduct by Digital and Technology-Based Platform Businesses;
  • Privacy, Big Data, and Competition;
  • Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence, and Predictive Analytics;
  • The FTC is especially interested in new empirical research that indicates (or contraindicates) a causal relationship with respect to any of the topics identified for comment.

The FTC says topics of particular interest include “whether the platform business model has unique implications for antitrust and consumer law enforcement” and “the intersection between privacy, big data, and competition.”

The FTC’s hearings schedule is presented below.

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