Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar are petitioning the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether internet giants like Facebook and Google are handling users’ personal information in irresponsible or illegal fashion.
Blackburn, a Republican, and Klobuchar, a Democrat, made the request to FTC in a jointly signed letter this week. They said the message was drafted “in response to concerns regarding potential privacy, data security, and antitrust violations involving online platforms.”
Blackburn said in a statement that her constituents are worried not only about online privacy, but whether internet companies can gain possession and claim ownership of users’ personal information.
“The FTC has a responsibility to hold technology companies accountable for securing their platforms,” said Blackburn. She went on, “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 “market dominance” established by immense online companies “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 senators’ letter also asks that FTC break with its standard practice of keeping silent during investigations and instead inform the public forthrightly when major online platforms are under formal examination for potentially unscrupulous activity.
Klobuchar and Blackburn are the first women ever elected to represent their respective states in the U.S. Senate. Klobuchar announced last month that she’s running for president in 2020.
Their full letter to the Federal Trade Commission is below:
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.
Amy Klobuchar Marsha Blackburn
United States Senator United States Senator