A federal agency has launched an investigation into how Google, Apple and other tech companies handle data about consumers' purchases.
“Knowing what we spend our money on is a valuable source of data on consumer behavior,” Rohit Chopra, the new director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, stated Thursday. “This data can be monetized by companies that seek to profit from behavioral targeting, particularly around advertising and e-commerce.”
Chopra said he has ordered six tech companies that offer payment platforms -- Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Square, and PayPal -- to provide detailed information about their policies, including how they draw on consumers' data.
Chopra added that there are unanswered questions surrounding how those companies will draw on data about consumers' purchases.
“Will the operators engage in invasive financial surveillance and combine the data they collect on consumers with their geolocation and browsing data?” Chopra asked. “Will they in turn use this data to deepen behavioral advertising, engage in price discrimination, or sell to third parties?”
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau added in a statement that the sharing of payment information with data brokers, as well as using payment data for behavioral targeting, “may not align with consumers’ expectations.”
The new investigation comes as Silicon Valley faces increased scrutiny by lawmakers and regulators.
The Federal Trade Commission is currently suing Facebook over alleged antitrust violations, while the Department of Justice and various state attorneys general are pursuing antitrust complaints against Google.
In addition, federal lawmakers have recently introduced numerous bills that could affect tech companies, including ones that would curb web publishers' protections for speech posted by users.