U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) on Monday called for a Federal Trade Commission investigation into online platforms over privacy concerns, data security and antitrust violations.
Blackburn tweeted, “Today, @SenAmyKlobuchar and I urged the @FTC to hold tech companies like @Google and @Facebook accountable for securing their platforms. Tennesseans are rightly concerned about who owns their #VirtualYou.”
Today, @SenAmyKlobuchar and I urged the @FTC to hold tech companies like @Google and @Facebook accountable for securing their platforms. Tennesseans are rightly concerned about who owns their #VirtualYou. pic.twitter.com/rQvvY0ZPce
— Sen. Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) April 8, 2019
The letter comes a few weeks after U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI-01), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, asked for the FTC to probe whether Facebook has violated antitrust laws, The Hill said.
Blackburn said in a press release, “Tennesseans are rightly concerned about who owns their Virtual You. They want to be certain that their privacy is protected in both the physical and virtual space. The FTC has a responsibility to hold technology companies accountable for securing their platforms. My hope is that through this bipartisan effort we will shed light on the need to protect competition and online privacy to keep up with the fast pace of changes in technology. Companies like Facebook and Google have transformed society in revolutionary ways and need to recognize that with that power comes the responsibility to secure their online platforms.”
Klobuchar said, “In the past few years, rapid changes in technology have reshaped our economy and transformed the daily lives of millions of Americans—in many ways for the better. But during that same time, a small number of firms have grown to dominate key digital markets. This type of market dominance has amplified concerns about how those companies protect consumers’ online information and about possible anticompetitive conduct that could harm consumers, innovation, and small business growth.”
Their letter reads:
Dear Chairman Simons and Commissioners Phillips, Chopra, Slaughter, and Wilson:
We write to urge the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to take action in response to concerns regarding potential privacy, data security, and antitrust violations involving online platforms. We also call on the FTC to provide additional transparency into its ongoing investigations to ensure that consumers are protected from harmful conduct relating to digital markets.
In the past few years, rapid changes in technology have reshaped our economy and transformed the daily lives of millions of Americans—in many ways for the better. But during that same time, a small number of firms have grown to dominate key digital markets. For example, in digital search, Google, Inc. now has approximately 90 percent of web search volume, and in digital advertising, Google and Facebook account for nearly 60 percent of U.S. digital ad spending, with Amazon a distant third at just under 9 percent. This type of market dominance has amplified concerns about how those companies protect consumers’ online information and about possible anticompetitive conduct that could harm consumers, innovation, and small business growth.
The intensive collection and monetization of consumers’ personal data by digital platforms, as well as reported breaches of consumer data held by these companies, has raised significant questions regarding privacy and data security. In particular, some have expressed concern that Facebook’s recently announced plans to integrate its three messaging platforms—WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger—may lead to Facebook sharing user data between its platforms. As Congress considers legislation to enact stronger safeguards for consumers’ online privacy, we urge the FTC to use its existing authority to protect the privacy and security of consumers’ online data.
We understand that the FTC does not typically comment on nonpublic investigations, but the public discussion surrounding Google and other companies’ conduct have made this a uniquely important national issue. Accordingly, we respectfully request that the FTC consider publicly disclosing whether it is conducting an investigation of Google and/or other major online platforms and describe, in general terms, the nature of the conduct under examination in any such investigations. Going forward, we also encourage the FTC to disclose the existence of non-public investigations that may be of significant public interest, consistent with the FTC’s legal obligations.
Thank you for your attention to these critical issues.
Blackburn is no stranger to issues with online platforms. During her campaign in October 2017, Twitter temporarily banned her campaign announcement video describing the brutal practice of abortion providers selling fetal body parts.
In fall 2018, Facebook temporarily blocked a pro-life ad by the Susan B. Anthony Foundation supporting Blackburn’s candidacy. Around the same time, Google blocked a Tennessee Republican Party ad featuring an angry mob of protesters. The ad included video footage of protesters interrupting Blackburn’s moment of silence for victims of the deadly mass shooting of a synagogue.
– – –
Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.