The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) must act to protect civil rights and privacy in online commerce by regulating unfair and deceptive practices, creating an Office of Civil Rights, and increasing enforcement against Big Tech, states a letter sent to the agency on Friday by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and 23 other national advocacy organizations.
The organizations are calling on the FTC to use every tool at its disposal to address online discrimination, exploitation of personal data, and abusive practices. The algorithms and models that are being used in commercial data practices are reinforcing the structural racism and systemic bias that pervades our society, most notably in the employment, finance, housing, and education sectors. These practices are denying communities of color equal opportunity, amplifying disinformation and white supremacy, and exploiting consumers.
“Discrimination is the quintessential unfair and deceptive practice. Online or offline, no business should be allowed to engage in discrimination and deny opportunities just because someone’s race, ethnicity, or language does not meet a certain criteria,” said David Brody, who leads the Digital Justice Initiative at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The FTC has a responsibility to proactively defend the rights of Black Americans, other communities of color, and all consumers against exploitative data practices.”
The organizations ask the FTC to take immediate steps to stop unfair and deceptive practices through comprehensive federal regulations to address abuse of commercial data by tech companies. Left unattended, these companies will negatively affect equal opportunity, data protection, due process, transparency, data security, and corporate accountability.
“Exploitative data practices, like discriminatory AI systems or dark patterns designed to deceive people, disproportionately harm marginalized communities who already face discrimination on multiple fronts,” said Sara Collins, policy counsel at Public Knowledge. “Fortunately, the FTC has both the authority and the opportunity to support the people who need them most. We urge the FTC to seize this moment to create new rules to protect the privacy of all Americans, but especially of marginalized people.”
“We’ve known for years that, behind closed doors, online companies collect and process data in ways that harm and discriminate against people,” said Eric Null, U.S. Policy Manager at Access Now. “It’s time for the FTC to take bold action against these companies and practices, and show the world that the U.S. in fact does care about protecting people’s privacy and civil rights.”
“The proliferation of online services has created an unprecedented need for proactive consumer protection. Nowhere is that need more urgent than the protection of civil rights and equal opportunity online,” said Erin Simpson, associate director of Technology Policy at the Center for American Progress. “The FTC must fully embrace its consumer protection mission by using all tools available to curb abusive commercial data practices—and center the communities whose rights are most at risk.”
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of voting rights, criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and hate crimes. For more information, please visit https://lawyerscommittee.org.