Consumer groups urge FTC to probe Google, Facebook data-consent tactics

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Eight consumer advocacy groups are calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Google and Facebook over what they see as “misleading” tactics that push consumers to give up their personal data.

“Companies employ numerous tricks and tactics to nudge consumers toward giving consent to disclosing as much data as possible for as many purposes as possible,” the advocacy groups, led by Consumer Watchdog, wrote in their letter to the FTC.

{mosads}The organizations cited a study published this month by the Norwegian government’s privacy watchdog that makes similar assertions.

The study by Forbrukerrådet argues that Google and Facebook use four general tactics to pressure consumers into agreeing to handing over their data: setting default privacy settings to the least private options; making disclosure of at least some data a prerequisite to using the service; making privacy settings difficult to access; and using “deceptive” design.

“Google and Facebook use the same manipulative tactics in the United States and the FTC needs to take a stand against Facebook and Google for deceiving the American people, as well as Europeans, into giving up their privacy,” said John Simpson, Privacy and Technology Project director at Consumer Watchdog, in a statement.

The other groups that signed the FTC letter are Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Public Citizen and U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Facebook said in response to the study that it is working to help give consumers more control over their data. A company spokesperson pointed to its compliance work with Europe’s new privacy rules, known as General Data Protection Regulation, that force tech companies to give users more control and be more transparent with consumer data.

“Our approach complies with the law, follows recommendations from privacy and design experts, and is designed to help people understand how the technology works and their choices,” the spokesperson said.

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