In January, the Norwegian Data Protection Authority fined the dating app Grindr over $11 million for violating its users' privacy. In January 2020, U.S. PIRG and others led by allies at the Norwegian Consumer Council had asked the FTC to investigate Grindr and nine other dating and health apps, but the agency has not taken action. The international coalition's efforts to urge the FTC and its European counterparts to take action had followed a report by the Norwegian Consumer Council called "Out of Control: How consumers are exploited by the adtech industry - and what we are doing to make it stop."
Excerpt from "Out of Control:"
"In this report, we demonstrate how every time we use our phones, a large number of shadowy entities that are virtually unknown to consumers are receiving personal data about our interests, habits, and behaviour. The actors, who are part of what we call the digital marketing and adtech industry, use this information to track us over time and across devices, in order to create comprehensive profiles about individual consumers. In turn, these profiles and groups can be used to personalize and target advertising, but also for other purposes such as discrimination, manipulation, and exploitation."
As the New York Times explained the Grindr app penalty:
"Grindr, the world's most popular gay dating app...had transmitted users’ precise locations, user-tracking codes and the app’s name to at least five advertising companies, essentially tagging individuals as L.G.B.T.Q. without obtaining their explicit consent, in violation of European data protection law. Grindr shared users’ private details with, among other companies, MoPub, Twitter’s mobile advertising platform, which may in turn share data with more than 100 partners, according to the agency’s ruling."
In a detailed memo on privacy and digital rights, U.S. PIRG and other privacy, civil rights and consumer groups have urged the Biden administration to examine and regulate BigTech data sharing practices closely. Our recommendations include to eliminate the obsolete concept of "whatever we do is ok if we give you notice and consent" (whether consent is opt-in (informed) or opt-out (uninformed)). Instead,we urge that only certain uses and sharing of consumer data that meet limited permissible purposes be allowed. Also, of course, we urge that any new federal privacy legislation be a floor, not a ceiling, of protection that does not preempt stronger state laws.
Also in January 2021, following up on yet another Norwegian Consumer Council report, our coalition asked the FTC to investigate the alleged difficulty of cancelling an Amazon Prime membership (news release). Excerpt from our letter:
“Amazon Prime’s subscription model is a ‘roach motel,’ where getting in is almost effortless, but escape is an ordeal. As a general rule, it should not be more difficult to unsubscribe than to subscribe from a digital service.”
Oh, and also this month, our coalition also urged Senate Commerce and Judiciary Committee leaders (letter) not to give Big Tech lobbyists any senior antitrust jobs! Excerpt:
"The undersigned organizations are a broad coalition that represent millions of Americans, including many in your home states, who are concerned about Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google’s concentrated power. Today, these four corporations are widely understood to wield monopoly power in ways that harm consumers, workers, independent businesses, and democracy itself. Recent polling conducted by Pew Research Center shows that nearly half of Americans want to see the government step in and regulate Big Tech. State and federal enforcers are making progress on this front, and we can’t risk losing ground by appointing sympathetic enforcers."
Senior antitrust jobs include nominations as Federal Trade Commissioners. Two commissioner seats are open, now that Commissioner Rohit Chopra, a strong consumer defender, has been nominated to return to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, this time as director. We strongly support Rohit Chopra's nomination to his important new job at the CFPB, but no Big Tech hired gun should be nominated to serve on either the Federal Trade Commission or to a senior antitrust position at the Department of Justice.
Graphic credit Norwegian Consumer Council.