|Photos: YouTube Screenshots
WASHINGTON — On Thursday, Free Press Action released Insatiable: The Tech Industry’s Quest for All Our Data, a research report that investigates policies at new social-media platforms and calls for robust protections of the privacy rights of everyone in America.
Insatiable closely examines the data-collection policies of the three social-media platforms vying to replace a faltering Twitter — Bluesky, Mastodon and Meta’s Threads. It finds that unless lawmakers and regulators intervene, the persistent, unchecked and profit-driven collection of our personal data will continue to undermine users’ digital civil rights.
(Please follow this link to join a discussion about the report today — Thursday — at 1 p.m. ET with Sen. Ed Markey and digital civil-rights advocates.)
Free Press Action’s analysis shows the urgent need for regulatory oversight to safeguard our digital privacy and mitigate corporate hunger for all our data. This is critically important now, as the White House is rushing to rein in privacy abuses related to artificial intelligence. At the same time, tech companies are altering their terms of service and privacy policies to explicitly expand their ability to train generative AI models on all sorts of personal user data.
Free Press Action Policy Counsel Jenna Ruddock is the principal author of Insatiable. Ruddock said:
“Tech companies have been free to self-regulate their data-collection practices for more than two decades now — and they’ve failed to protect user privacy and civil rights. New social-media platforms like Bluesky and Mastodon have been hailed as alternatives to the data-driven business model of established platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube. Our research has found, however, that privacy-violating practices — and algorithmic harms that flow from companies’ tracking of our information — will remain dominant unless lawmakers and regulators impose robust consumer protections for everyone in America.
“The White House has just released an executive order designed to set new standards for AI safety and security by protecting people’s digital civil rights. This comes as tech companies are furiously updating their privacy policies and terms of service to grant themselves permission to harvest more user information to train the next generation of AI. Even if every user diligently and regularly reads through each platform’s privacy policies, they would still not have a full picture of how their data are collected and used by platforms, let alone by the myriad other companies whose websites and mobile apps we interact with on a regular basis. The urgent need for comprehensive federal privacy rules couldn’t be clearer as companies including TikTok and Twitter expand their data-collection practices to include increasingly sensitive forms of data, like user biometrics.
“New platforms like Bluesky and Mastodon may help create space for less data-extractive alternatives to gain traction. Yet Meta’s efforts to introduce Threads into the same ecosystem underscore the reach and influence of incumbents and their abusive data practices, even as they begin to pay lip service to the principles of decentralization, interoperability and user control. These abuses will continue without comprehensive federal data-privacy rules to prevent the harms that flow from the unmitigated harvesting of our personal data. The case studies examined in Insatiable represent only one slice of a data economy that is inadequately unregulated.”