Washington, D.C. — Improving online safety and protecting the private information of consumers is a top priority for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), one of the agency’s members told an audience at the Center for American Progress on Monday.
FTC Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya said online abuse that targets children is especially troubling. He pledged that the commission would not shy away from bringing enforcement actions against companies that violate the law.
“This is a broad problem, and then the question is, what the heck can we do about it?”, he said.
The discussion was part of an event that CAP convened for Safer Internet Day, which raises awareness of emerging online issues and ways to reduce online harm. A separate panel included Sandro Gozi, a member of the European Parliament, who outlined new laws in Europe that provide significant new safeguards against Big Tech.
Bedoya praised a recent law passed by the California Legislature that would require online platforms to consider how a product’s design can pose a risk to minors.
“My hope is that a decade from now, you have robust enforcement of the California standard, that the best interests of the child standard passes elsewhere in the country,” either at the federal level or in other states, Bedoya said.
Asked what the FTC might do to further promote safety by design online, Bedoya noted the commission’s recent $520 million settlement with Epic Games Inc.—creator of the video game Fortnite—because of how the game treated children’s data and allowed unknown adults to speak to teens “in a way that we allege was very harmful for their mental health.”
“This is in the staff’s minds as a priority,” Bedoya said, noting that the enforcement action was staff-driven.
Bedoya stressed that information privacy is also a top concern for the FTC.
“We are committed to protecting Americans’ sensitive information,” he said. “And if you are a company that’s playing fast and loose with that information, we will be very interested in that behavior.”
In a separate panel, Gozi discussed how the European Union this year will begin implementing the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act, which provide new protections against Big Tech. That means Europeans will soon have far more online protections than American consumers from major American Big Tech companies.
Gozi said U.S. companies are going to adapt to Europe’s new rules, requiring major investments and new employees, yet they will have a totally different structure in their biggest market: the United States.
“To me, in the medium and long run, this does not really make sense,” Gozi said.
Online safety advocates have asked why companies don’t voluntarily extend these protections to all users, given the broad bipartisan consensus on the need to protect Americans’ privacy and children’s safety online.
CAP President and CEO Patrick Gaspard says fighting online harm and providing a safer Internet for Americans should be a priority. He has called the European laws a model of how tech corporations should treat Americans consumers.
Click here to watch the event.
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