Big Tech companies such as Facebook and Google could be forced to give up proprietary algorithms, at the heart of their business, if they abuse privacy to gather user data, a top official at the Federal Trade Commission said on Tuesday.
The chief technologist at the trade commission, Erie Meyer, said at a privacy conference on Tuesday that tech companies that gather user data illegally could face traditional penalties, such as paying fines and disclosure of data, but also could be forced to give up “algorithms that were juiced by ill-gotten data.”
Meyer said data abuses by Big Tech companies, such as several high-profile incidents in the past few years, don’t happen in a vacuum but rather occur due to incentives to capture more customers and beat out competitors.
The Department of Justice under former President Donald Trump also investigated abuse of data by online platforms.
“We’re going to make sure that data abusers face consequences for their wrongdoing,” Meyer said. She said that it does not work to stiffen penalties by making them “a disclosure longer or a one-time fine bigger” and suggested the trade commission focus on tackling the entire business models of tech companies that abuse privacy.
The trade commission plans to investigate privacy and other data abuses by tech companies not just through the traditional realm of consumer protection, but also in regards to issues such as civil rights, economic opportunities, and competition, Meyer and Democratic FTC Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter said.