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‘Kids Online Safety Act’ is a Trojan Horse For Digital Censorship

Washington, D.C. – This week, a bipartisan cohort of US Senators unveiled a new version of the Kids Online Safety Act, a bill that aims to impose various restrictions and requirements on technology platforms used by both adults and minors.

Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center, a consumer advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. responded: 

“This bill is constitutionally dubious and would create new powers that should frighten not only every parent but also every user of digital platforms such as social media. In writing new federal rules to “protect” kids online, the real effect will be to significantly degrade the experience for all users while putting their sensitive personal information at risk.”

The Consumer Choice Center believes strongly that if Congress were to pass such a bill, lawmakers would be aligning with the idea that the government should have the final say over young people’s access to the Internet, thus diminishing the role of parents in their kids’ lives. 

“There are ways to protect kids online, but that begins at home with parental authority and supervision. It’s a false choice to accept the gatekeeping of an entire generation from technology that has become so integral to daily life and contributes to their development as responsible citizens,” added Ossowski. 

Privacy and consumer advocates are sounding the alarm about what this law would mean in practice. Rules emanating from Washington granting “duty of care” to government officials will erode parental authority and consumer choice online. The bill seeks to control “design features” and limit developers’ inclusion of personalized recommendation systems, notifications, appearance-altering filters, and in-game purchases for apps used by minors. It’s a crackdown not just on features that work functionally for certain apps, but also on features that make them fun for users.

“KOSA is fundamentally wrong,” concluded Ossowski. “We as a society should trust that parents have the ultimate right to decide whether or not their children access certain websites or services, not indifferent government officials sitting in Washington. No one knows what is in the best interests of their child more than parents.”  

Media inquiries and interview requests can be sent to Media Director Stephen Kent: Stephen@consumerchoicecenter.org

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The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Washington, D.C., Ottawa, Brussels, Geneva, and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for  Consumer Choice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

The FTC’s cheering of a failed merger shows its disdain for consumers

Since when do government agencies applaud business deals that fall apart, resulting in hundreds of layoffs and loss opportunities for consumers who depend on those products?

That’s what happened earlier this month, when the Federal Trade Commission issued a press release applauding the failed $1.7 billion acquisition of the technology firm iRobot by the ecommerce giant Amazon.

The FTC, as well as Democratic Senators and competition regulators in the European Union, were hostile to the deal as they claimed it would “harm” competition for robot vacuum cleaners, one of the main consumer products made by iRobot, including its signature Roomba, one of the first products of its type. UK regulators disagreed and green-lit the deal back in June 2023.

Once the termination of the deal was announced, iRobot said it would be forced to lay off 31% of its employees – over 350 of them – and likely pause new projects. Their CEO also stepped down amid a falling stock price.

In response to the news, the FTC gloated that the transaction fell apart:

“We are pleased that Amazon and iRobot have abandoned their proposed transaction. The Commission’s probe focused on Amazon’s ability and incentive to favor its own products and disfavor rivals’, and associated effects on innovation, entry barriers, and consumer privacy. The Commission’s investigation revealed significant concerns about the transaction’s potential competitive effects. The FTC will not hesitate to take action in enforcing the antitrust laws to ensure that competition remains robust.”

Federal Trade Commission Associate Director for Merger Analysis Nathan Soderstrom

The failure of business mergers and acquisitions aren’t uncommon. Whether it be because of stockholder pressure, regulatory concerns, or mismatch of company cultures, deals like this fall apart all the time as often as they succeed. This cycle, caused by market forces, is healthy for innovation, better allocation of capital, and more options available for consumers in the market.

However, if the failure of a business deal and then a company comes at the hands of a regulator, that’s an entirely different matter. One that should leave us asking hard questions of the officials at these agencies, and whether they’re really looking out for consumers’ best interest.

The impact of such failures on consumers should not be lost.

With the failure of this acquisition, and without new innovative products or injections of capital, the maker of one of the first robotic vacuums purchased by millions of Americans and global consumers will likely end up a shadow of its former self. One more product will disappear from physical and online retail shelves, giving consumers less choice than they had previously.

There will still be plenty of options for consumers who want a robotic vacuum in their home, but the significant blow to iRobot means fewer consumers will be able to benefit from the new products and services that could have spawned as a result of this merger.

Armed with Amazon’s vast inventory, its capital, and its supply chain, as well as the current demand for artificial intelligence products consumers can use in their homes, we can only imagine what this partnership could have produced.

This leaves us asking an important question: had Amazon been allowed to purchase iRobot, would it have put other companies at a disadvantage? Would it have squelched competition in robotic vacuum cleaners? Would it have reduced choice and options for consumers? Or would it have led to significantly more innovations and products that we could have benefited from?

Put simply, we just don’t know. But neither does the FTC nor the EU regulators who also shot this deal down. Rather than increasing competition or denying an advantage, the FTC has managed to kill off the opportunities for an American company to grow and succeed, as well as the consumers who benefit from these products.

This has been a key mantra of the FTC during this administration, seeking to put halts on mergers and acquisitions for grocery stores, technology companies, and even healthcare firms, as my colleague Kimberlee Josephson eloquently puts here. These are robust and competitive sectors that are continuing to deliver innovation to consumers, and would benefit from having more not fewer companies.

Instead of a win for consumers as the FTC claims, all we have now is a failed business deal, a company in shambles, and an uncertain path for the open market of robotic vacuums. All in the name of “protecting the consumer”.

Since when should our regulatory agencies, which act in our name, cheer and applaud when deals like this lead to layoffs, declining revenues, and fewer options for consumers? That seems like not only poor in taste, but harmful to our own economic prospects and choices as customers.

If consumers aren’t scratching their heads yet, they definitely should be.

Biden’s FTC is declaring war on consumer preferences in their latest Amazon antitrust lawsuit 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | September 26, 2023

The FTC’s latest Amazon antitrust case seeks to end your consumer preferences

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This morning, the Federal Trade Commission launched another antitrust lawsuit against the tech firm Amazon, claiming that unique offerings to Amazon Prime subscribers, including faster logistics, bundled services, and low prices, are somehow harmful to consumers and should result in the company being broken up.

Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center reacted to the lawsuit:

“Consumers know they’re getting a myriad of benefits with their Prime subscription, whether that’s faster delivery, cheaper prices, or bundled services like data storage and content streaming. That’s what consumers want, and why millions buy from Amazon everyday.

“I think many Americans would be appalled if they learned what Biden’s FTC is proposing with these lawsuits: that Amazon Prime, as it stands, should cease to exist.

“That the FTC would waste their resources going after an innovative company that consistently offers value for consumers reveals more about the agency’s political grudge than any perceived harm to consumers. Consumers have overwhelmingly had their welfare increased because of Amazon’s products and services. Government efforts to break that up are harmful to consumers.

“Behind the U.S. military, Amazon is the most favorable institution in the country, mainly because millions of consumers have had experience with Amazon’s platform, have been employed by the company, or have used their services in any way,” said Ossowski.

“It is well known FTC Chair Lina Khan has spent her career trying to build an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon, as is revealed in her 2017 article on “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox, but those efforts fall flat with consumers who benefit and appreciate their services.”

“As we mentioned in our USA Today oped on this topic, consumers have voted with their wallets when it comes to Amazon’s services, including Amazon Prime. That an agency of the federal government would spend valuable time and resources trying to punish a company for offering too many affordable products and services in a unique way only seems laughable,” added Ossowski.

Contact

Stephen Kent, Media Director

Stephen@consumerchoicecenter.org 


The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva, Lima, Brasilia, and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

***Please send media inquiries to yael@consumerchoicecenter.org.***

FTC sues Amazon Prime for being too affordable and too convenient for consumers 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Wednesday, it was reported that the Federal Trade Commission has filed a lawsuit against the tech firm Amazon, claiming that its Prime subscription has “tricked” unwitting consumers by offering lower prices and faster delivery for customers who sign up for the service. The suit claims the company has “trapped” customers into Prime subscriptions.

Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center reacted to the lawsuit:

“Consumers know they’re getting a myriad of benefits with their Prime subscription they can cancel at anytime, whether that’s faster delivery, cheaper prices, or bundled services like data storage and content streaming. That’s what consumers want.

“That the FTC would waste their resources going after an innovative company that consistently offers value for consumers reveals more about the agency’s political grudge than any perceived harm to consumers. Consumers have overwhelmingly had their welfare increased because of Amazon’s products and services.

“Behind the U.S. military, Amazon is the most favorable institution in the country, mainly because millions of consumers have had experience with Amazon’s platform, have been employed by the company, or have used their services in any way,” said Ossowski.

“It is well known FTC Chair Lina Khan has spent her career trying to build an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon, as is revealed in her 2017 article on “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox”, but those efforts fall flat with consumers who benefit and appreciate their services.”

“Consumers have voted with their wallets when it comes to Amazon’s services, including Amazon Prime. That an agency of the federal government would spend valuable time and resources trying to punish a company for offering too many affordable products and services in a unique way only seems laughable,” added Ossowski.


The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva, Lima, Brasilia, and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

**Please send media inquiries to yael@consumerchoicecenter.org.***

FTC Chair Lina Khan’s social media crusade is now just an expensive, taxing grudge against consumers who want cool tech

Red X on all your apps (generated by Midjourney AI)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Extending its crusade against select social media firms, the Federal Trade Commission proposed several scathing amendments to a 2020-era privacy order with Meta on Wednesday, hoping to issue a blanket ban on “monetizing” youth data, a halt on all new innovations or product upgrades, and key criteria on privacy provisions.

The FTC has already attempted to halt several high-profile acquisitions by tech firms since Lina Khan’s ascension to FTC chair, including Microsoft’s purchase of video game company Activision, and Meta’s acquisition of the VR fitness app Within.

Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the consumer advocacy group Consumer Choice Center, responds:

“These retaliatory actions prove the FTC is now subsumed by a hyperactive crusade against all mergers and acquisitions – and effectively consumer choice, especially when it comes to new technologies. This has a chilling effect on any and all new innovators and remains incredibly paternalistic to tech-native consumers who want robust competition.

“Business models come and go, and consumers should be the ones rewarding or punishing firms and services they want or don’t want to use, not the federal agencies temporarily in charge of competition policy,” added Ossowski.

The accusations by the competition agency that Meta has failed with respect to privacy also seem a bridge too far, especially considering the convoluted patchwork of state privacy laws and federal agency mandates that exist in lieu of a comprehensive federal law to safeguard consumer privacy.

“As consumer advocates, we regard privacy and data security as the most fundamental elements of a consumer’s online experience. But while there are true bad actors that exist and are actively committing offenses right now, the FTC is dead-set on pursuing an ideological agenda against a handful of American tech innovators, all the while excusing or remaining blind to the real privacy violations committed by foreign apps that have much larger reach and sway among young people.

“The FTC’s social media crusade is now just an expensive, taxing grudge against consumers who want cool tech. Consumers would prefer the agency punish bad actors and bad behavior rather than corner American tech companies into a labyrinth of compliance no one could ever reasonably pass.

“We as consumers deserve a vibrant online marketplace where the winners are chosen by us instead of whichever political faction happens to control a federal agency,” concluded Ossowski.

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The Consumer Choice Center is an independent, non-partisan consumer advocacy group championing the benefits of freedom of choice, innovation, and abundance in everyday life.

We champion smart policies that are fit for growth, promote lifestyle choice, and embrace tech innovation for tens of thousands of our members and society-at-large, using research and educational outreach to policymakers and the broader public. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

Where is the FTC’s privacy report?

Data privacy is a fundamental liberal democratic principle for citizens + consumers.

In December 2020, the Federal Trade Commission ordered security and privacy data from Big Tech firms to inform potential future rules that would impact all consumers.

It’s nearly November 2022 but we still have NO report. Why?

We know that our interactions with companies and government involve privacy trade-offs that we must weigh individually. That’s what informed consumer choice is all about, and why we fight for smart data and privacy rules

Enough with data leaks/hacks!

We need smart data and privacy rules that can:
💡Champion Innovation
🛡Defend Portability
📲Allow Interoperability
👨‍💻Embrace Technological Neutrality
👩‍⚖️Avoid patchwork legislation
🔒Promote strong encryption

Learn more! 👇

Originally tweeted by Consumer Choice Center (@ConsumerChoiceC) on April 21, 2021.

The FTC began its 2020 investigation into data practices from major tech companies to try to understand their algorithms, data collection, and monetization. Tech firms provided this within 45 days.

But still no FTC report.

In August 2022, FTC called for public comments on commercial data practices and surveillance by tech firms, presumably informed by the data they collected and analyzed in their report.

But still no FTC report.

Maybe that’s why the deadline was pushed from October 20 to November 21, the week of Thanksgiving…

By then, will American consumers and citizens have access to the FCC report?

The FTC is asking for citizen comments on the data practices of tech firms, we deserve to know what’s in the report they’ve been cooking up for nearly 2 years.

As Joel Thayer writes, it’s an absolute failure that a major agency has fallen behind on this task, especially considering their ream of lawsuits and actions against these same tech companies.

If the FTC wants to empower consumers and provide a framework that we can debate, it needs to prove it. While data and consumer privacy are vital for consumers and innovators, we know this FTC chair has an agenda that will have sweeping ramifications.

FTC Chair Lina Khan has aimed to stop mergers and acquisitions and issued record fines on tech companies against the advice of her own staff. If FTC wants to invoke consumer privacy as another regulatory hammer, consumers deserve a say.

In our view, consumer and data privacy rules must provide balance and protection:

  • Champion Innovation
  • Defend Portability
  • Allow Interoperability
  • Embrace Technological Neutrality
  • Avoid patchwork legislation
  • Promote and allow strong encryption

Anyone who wants to submit a comment to the FTC on their “Trade Regulation Rule on Commercial Surveillance and Data Security” — even without the report — should submit one here.

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