FTC Chair Lina Khan has announced that the agency is unilaterally tightening a 2020 consent decree on social media company Meta, imposing severe and unprecedented restrictions on the platform.
This announcement is yet another step towards Khan’s ultimate goal of putting every American business in a “Mother-May-I” relationship with the federal government. If this is allowed to stand, any company under a consent decree with the FTC should be on notice that bureaucrats can swoop in at any time and grind your business operations to a halt.
The proposal bans Meta from collecting data on users under 18, something that their authority only permits them to do through rulemaking as opposed to a consent decree. The agency also proposes new restrictions on the company’s use of facial recognition technology, limiting Meta’s use of some of the most effective technology available to distinguish minors from adults.
The most galling part of the proposal forces Meta to put a “pause” on development of new services. This is a blatant government cap on innovation. Even if their concerns about Meta’s data practices were warranted, that does not legitimize a blanket ban on Meta’s attempts to deliver new products and services to American consumers.
The agency, traditionally bipartisan, has not had a Republican commissioner since March 2023. Despite the all-Democratic composition of the agency, even Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya casted doubt on the agency’s ability to propose such sweeping restrictions on Meta in this unprecedented fashion.
In a statement, Bedoya said that despite his views on Meta’s data collection as a matter of policy, “…when the Commission determines how to modify an order, it must identify a nexus between the original order, the intervening violations, and the modified order. Based on the record before me today, I have concerns about whether such a nexus exists for proposed Provision I.”
While misguided, the order is not surprising given that Khan has played Whack-A-Mole with Meta since becoming FTC Chair. Khan gave Meta no advance notice of the action, despite their limited 30 day window to appeal it. This brazen behavior has precedent from Khan’s FTC as they also did not give Meta any notice when they filed the suit to block Meta’s acquisition of Within, even though, normally, the FTC would seek “sworn testimony from executives at Meta or Within about the deal… if a lawsuit is in the works.” Khan wants to ensure Meta loses at all costs, even if the facts are in their favor, which is also in line with her prior comments bemoaning the ‘“pathology” of waiting for the ‘most immaculate set of facts”’ before advancing lawsuits.
Ultimately, this proposal is just another step in Khan’s quest to use her authority to reshape the economy. Congress should take note and work to rein in this out of control agency.