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

Knew this was coming!

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.


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I have mixed feelings about government stepping in.  They are all private enterprises which happen to market their users to advertisers.  Riddle me this.  If Russian bots were unsuccessful in swaying any votes (as Republicans keep saying and I personally believe), then why does anyone care if they operate in these social media venues?  The only area I can see where government involvement might be warranted is if their obvious left leanings can be considered a sort of donation to a candidate or party.  Your thoughts? 

I agree they are all private companies. I'm betting the government will try to do something after Twitter went after a bunch of conservative congressmen. Not sure what they will come up with. Probably try to do what you say and use it as a donation. We shall see.

They need to follow the Constitution!

Given:  These are privately owned companies. 

Unlike a newspaper, television station or radio station, these companies do not originate content such as the others do with editorials and commentary by their employees or company management. 

Like telephone providers, they allow initial service to whomever seeks it.  They encourage sign up by providing it for free.  Telephone companies require monthly fees.  Telephone (or telecom) companies are generally thought of as utilities and are regulated as such.  They are allowed to drop a subscriber due to non-payment.

Facebook, Twitter, etc, should be treated as utilities because like telecom providers they do not originate content.  The subscriber is the one who originates content.  The social media site/network only carries and stores content generated by subscribers.  As such, social media networks have no legitimate responsibility (or right) to infringe on the right of free speech of their subscribers beyond the technical design characteristics of any particular network (i.e 140 characters, etc). 

These media sites get paid by selling advertising TARGETED to individual subscribers.  That does not give them the right to infringe on free speech even if they are privately owned.

Given: These are privately owned companies.

Who gets to say they are, or are not, utilities?  I suppose I see the social media sites as privately owned playgrounds open to the public.   They are largely a free-for-all.  Those who play there can claim a little piece of it as their own space, and control what’s immediately around them (their timeline).  The owner of the playground sets the rules, and can enforce or ignore them as he sees fit.  Where am I going wrong here, JB?  (I’m loving this discussion!)

The primary model I have in mind is the telephone company.  They provide a connectivity service.  They do not listen to the content of calls (unless big brother asks ) and they do not advertise on the network they provide.  They provide a service for a fee.  However, the phone company regulated as a utility.  They can drop subscribers for non-payment.

Social media sites and some search engine sites provide a connectivity service.  They DO listen to the content posted.  They DO advertise on the network they provide. They DO NOT directly charge subscribers but instead analyze content to provide targeting for advertisers.  They also ban subscribers whose content is "offensive".

Using the telephone, I know I can say whatever I want -- FREEDOM OF SPEECH.  On an unregulated social network, I can be banned for exercising my freedom of speech.

Therefore, social networks should be regulated as utilities to ensure my freedom of speech just as any public business must sell w/o regard to race, ethnicity, country of origin, ....  Any social network must allow freedom of expression. 


On utilities, this is interesting, particularly because it’s 40 years old!  Evidently this issue isn’t exactly new!  I do think it pertains here as the main beef people have with social media is that they favor a political party.  I think google and other search engines are more in line with what constitutes a utility, than Facebook or Twitter. 


A main component of how these networks should be managed/regulated by "the people" is an answer to the question -- Who provides the content?  A platform for dialogue should not infringe on individuals' right to freedom of expression.

Ok...social networks of old were ‘clubs.’   There were Republican Clubs and Democrat Clubs.  Members had to belong to the political party and pay dues.  They had a ‘board of directors’ to approve new members, collect dues, and pay the bills.  These were bars, with a bartender and juke box.  Drinks were reasonable.  I think that’s an earlier version of social networks.  Shouldn’t they be (if they still exist anywhere) regulated as well?

These clubs still exist.  They use the medium that God provides as their communication platform -- the air we breathe.  As far as regulation is concerned, the members of the club come and go as they please somewhat in accordance with whether they are invited to join or invited to leave.  As far as we can tell, God does not directly regulate these clubs.

Great way to lay this out using the Telephone Co, JB! I remember when they broke up and regulated the Tele co as my dad was a Supervisor for NJ BEll, which is now Verizon. You're right, they sell advertising and get paid for it. I forgot about that point.

Thanks, Robin.

You're welcome JB.





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