Raze Your Algorithm: Listen to the new podcast that comprises tales from a extra fearsome FTC

Raze Your Algorithm: Listen to the new podcast that comprises tales from a extra fearsome FTC

Raze Your Algorithm is a two-portion Digiday podcast particular exploring the implications of a extra aggressive Federal Alternate Rate. Most incessantly incessantly known as outmoded and toothless in previous years, the FTC is sharpening its fangs below the fine new leadership of Chairwoman Lina Khan, who has already guided protection changes that might perchance presumably moreover like a sizable assemble on how the company addresses privateness and antitrust abuses of information-hungry tech. But occasion-line votes among FTC commissioners mark heightened inner partisanship at the company, identified historically for rising above the political fray. And some ache getting too aggressive or political might perchance presumably moreover backfire.

When the FTC alleged that period monitoring app maker Flo Health shared folks’s non-public effectively being information with Fb and Google with out permission, its settlement with the firm required some changes within the design in which it gathers and uses folks’s information. But some believed it used to be upright yet any other instance of a used design to enforcing the company’s authority. The settlement soon ended in a controversial enforcement protection replace that might perchance presumably moreover have an effect on limitless effectively being and effectively being app makers. And that used to be upright one indication that the FTC is getting more challenging on tech companies. It’s already compelled two companies to smash their algorithms.


Raze Your Algorithm credit rating:

Kate Kaye, reporter, scriptwriter and host

Sara Patterson, producer

Priya Rao, script editor

D. Rives Curtright, recent tune


For some folks — for some ladies — this used to be a violation now no longer upright of privateness, however of non secular beliefs, and non secular beliefs. This used to be a immense ache for them and introduced them sizable shame.


Pam Dixon is the government director of World Privateness Forum, a company that provides study and steering connected to all sorts of privateness elements.

When folks stumbled on out that a period monitoring app called Flo might perchance presumably moreover like shared intimate information about their bodies with out their permission, loads of calls came into her neighborhood’s privateness hotline.


When folks of an app be taught that their information is going to at least one amongst these tall tech companies that they had been now no longer responsive to when they signed up, it makes them very apprehensive and I feel that’s handsome. They’ll call our place apart of job line which is a teach line and takes loads of messages.


So, at the same time as you occur to don’t exercise one amongst these period trackers, they’ve change into pretty in fashion. Like most of the opposite period monitoring apps, folks exercise Flo to song their sessions to stare within the event that they’re leisurely, to know whether or now no longer it’s top time to are attempting to safe pregnant, to devise when basically among the finest dates for a seashore commute would be, or within the event that they’re a microscopic bit of on the older facet, to measure how their menstrual cycles change as menopause comes into the image.

To model the app’s predictions work, folks put up all sorts of with out a doubt non-public information about their bodies — when they had been sexually intimate, whether or now no longer they had intercourse connected issues and even when they skilled premenstrual symptoms like bloating or zits or depression.

It used to be alleged that between 2017 and 2019, Flo Health, the maker of the Flo Duration and Ovulation Tracker app, shared that form of non-public effectively being information with companies at the side of Google and Fb. 

And that information sharing might perchance presumably moreover like affected loads of oldsters. Tens of hundreds and hundreds spherical the field exercise the Flo app. 

Maria Jose is a fashion of many Flo app customers. She lives in Medellin, Columbia. After we spoke in September she used to be 14 years worn — about to turn 15. Attributable to her age, we’re exclusively the usage of Maria Jose’s first name.

She advised me that the boys in college bullied her and other ladies about their sessions.  


It’s now no longer a upright topic to chat about. You are going to safe bothered plenty, like bullying. They’ll instruct, “Oh, you’ve got that? That’s injurious.”

After I started, like, my period I talked to my chums, and in boom that they rapid me the Flo app. I upright started the usage of it. I with out a doubt don’t be taught the protection apps — the privateness. I upright, like, started it. And, yeah, it has been very unparalleled, that app.

I love that it tells me after I’m about to originate so I don’t safe like several, within the college or one thing else.


Yes, so you don’t like spots extinguish up locations you don’t desire them to. I had that occur after I was about your age. I keep in mind. 

The firm used to be sharing information that for occasion, folks like you, when they exercise the app and also you instruct, “Hello, my period started,” that information might perchance presumably moreover were shared with Fb and Google and other companies. And there’s a possibility that it can presumably moreover were outmoded for, instruct, focusing on marketing and marketing or for Fb to exercise for its product pattern and study — we don’t with out a doubt know.  What assemble you watched about that? 


I’m now no longer going to discontinuance the usage of the app because it’s very precious, however it absolutely worries me a microscopic bit of bit that, yeah, it’ll even be linked very with out ache.


Maria Jose outlined to me that she didn’t just like the foundation of the Flo app linking information about her period or premenstrual symptoms to information that other companies — comparable to Fb or Google — like. 

She used to be neutral to fret. When folks enter information into an app like Flo, it on the total doesn’t stay upright in a single place apart. It travels and on the total it’s blended and connected to other information. 

And when a period tracker app like Flo shares information with Fb or other companies, it’ll even be linked up with other information about any individual — and outmoded to paint a extra shimmering portrait of who they’re and what’s occurring in their lives. 

Fb, as an illustration, might perchance presumably moreover like taken a section of information like any individual obtained some PMS weight and it can presumably moreover like aimed an advert at them promoting a weight reduction product. Or it can presumably moreover like even classified her as any individual who’s in ache for fertility issues connected to weight assemble and bloating.

Here’s Pam Dixon all over again.


Somewhat a couple of times where the issues attain in is when there’s unknown secondary uses of information you entrusted to, a technology firm or a retailer or to somebody, and I feel that that’s where Flo has gotten in ache here.


And the article is, information about sessions, or fertility, or whether or now no longer any individual is attempting to conceive a baby — these aren’t upright information aspects. They’re non-public, sensitive elements. 

Other americans like Maria Jose are bullied. Females and ladies in some formula of India are compelled to stay in menstrual huts — exiled upright for getting their sessions. And data about when any individual is on their period takes on a total new stage of ache for trans males or non-binary folks.


There’s very indispensable ache, and now no longer upright from folks within the United States, there are folks from other international locations who are very engaging with this, and the alarm is with out a doubt in some cases is stronger in other international locations — and there’s extra madden. 

In some cultures, sessions are, they’re now no longer controversial however they’re very non-public. Within the U.S., I feel we’re extra launch about these items, and we leer it as, OK, effectively here’s portion of effectively being, and , we issue about it, however it absolutely’s now no longer that design in all locations. And in locations where it isn’t that design, to love this fashion of breach is a with out a doubt sizable ache.

I feel being advised that effectively, “it’s upright a bunch,” the ache is once there’s a breach of belief like this it’s with out a doubt exhausting to safe it support and since we don’t like ample transparency into what with out a doubt occurred, I feel there’s an ongoing lack of belief. 


So, you’re doubtlessly questioning — aren’t there prison guidelines against what Flo Health did? Can’t the executive assemble one thing when a firm shares sensitive non-public effectively being information with out permission?

Neatly, yeah. There are prison guidelines against unfounded industrial practices like these. And there’s a executive company that’s decided as a lot as provide protection to folks from the unfair information sharing that Flo Health allegedly enabled. 

If truth be told, that company — The Federal Alternate Rate — or the FTC for brief — is precisely what we’re here to chat about. My name is Kate Kaye. I’m a reporter overlaying information and privateness elements for Digiday, and loads of my reporting deals with the FTC and the design in which it’s some distance altering to safe a bigger grip on a largely-untamed tech change.

Here’s portion one of Raze Your Algorithm, a two-portion podcast about how the FTC is getting more challenging.

About the design in which it’s attempting to lasso information-hungry tech. 

About what a extra aggressive FTC might perchance presumably moreover mean for tech companies and the oldsters who exercise their apps and internet sites.

About how partisanship and politics is influencing the FTC’s future.

And about how its previous might perchance presumably moreover safe within the design in which. 

The FTC investigated Flo Health and finally lodged a criticism against the firm that used to be made public in January 2021. 

They stumbled on that — even supposing the firm promised customers it wouldn’t portion intimate basic aspects about them — it did. The FTC mentioned that Flo disclosed information revealing issues like when customers of the app had their sessions or within the event that they had change into pregnant. 

A 2019 Wall Avenue journal uncover that got the FTC drawn to investigating Flo walked readers by the contrivance.  How instrument at some stage within the Flo app information information — instruct about when a person is ovulating — and passes it to Fb, which is ready to then exercise it to attempt advertisements, perchance for fertility companies.


So, within the lengthy proceed the FTC did what it on the total does in these sorts of cases. It settled with Flo Health. 

Following the investigation, four of the FTC’s 5 commissioners voted in favor of finalizing a upright settlement with the firm. It demanded that Flo Health model some changes to its app and its information practices to model certain it can presumably never portion folks’s intimate effectively being information with out their permission all over again. 

It required the firm to ask folks in a transparent and outstanding design — like neutral up entrance when they acquire the app — within the event that they’re OK with Flo sharing their effectively being information. That meant Flo Health couldn’t continue to bury information about information sharing in a privateness protection that most customers never be taught.

The settlement moreover mentioned the firm needed to uncover folks the usage of its app that their information had been disseminated to companies like Fb with out their information or permission. 

In a roundabout design, the FTC ordered Flo Health to uncover the opposite companies it shared its customers’ information with, like Fb and Google, that they’d like to smash that information. 

Flo declined to be interviewed for this podcast, however the firm despatched a assertion claiming that at no time did Flo Health ever sell person information or portion it for marketing and marketing functions. The firm mentioned it cooperated entirely with the FTC’s inquiry, and wired that the settlement used to be now no longer an admission of any wrongdoing. 

But there’s loads of stuff the FTC didn’t assemble to penalize Flo Health.

It didn’t slap any fines on the firm. And it didn’t safe money for of us who had been violated when Flo Health — with out permission — shared basic aspects about when they got cramps or felt bloated or had been ovulating or got abominable. 

Some folks believed the settlement used to be extra of a light slap on the wrist than any form of refined penalty. They taken aback that the FTC didn’t put in power a selected effectively being privateness rule. Person who might perchance presumably like compelled the firm to squawk its app customers in due course if their non-public effectively being information used to be shared or leaked. Even two of the FTC’s non-public 5 commissioners wanted the company to head extra by making exercise of that rule: it’s called the Health Breach Notification Rule. 

The Health Breach Notification Rule now no longer exclusively requires companies to squawk folks tormented by a breach of effectively being-connected information, violating it can presumably moreover pack a punch — companies might perchance even be fined extra than $43,000 for every violation per day. But within the final decade because it’s had the authority to video display the guideline, the FTC has never once performed that. It wasn’t even applied against Flo.

FTC commissioner Rohit Chopra voted ‘certain’ on the settlement against Flo Health, with some caveats. He argued that the FTC might perchance presumably moreover aloof like charged the firm with a violation of that rule. Imposing it against Flo might perchance presumably moreover were a mark to other effectively being app makers that the FTC is getting more challenging on effectively being information and app information privateness.

Chopra spoke about it for the length of a September FTC meeting.


Flo used to be improperly sharing extremely sensitive information with Fb, Google and others, however in preference to sending a transparent message, that the textual drawl of the effectively being breach notification rule covers this activity, we demonstrated all over again that we might perchance presumably be unwilling to place in power this laws as written.


So, it appears that for the length of that meeting — upright about a months after the Flo settlement — the FTC decided it can presumably build extra emphasis on that rule in due course with regards to information sharing by effectively being apps. 

No longer all americans agreed. Two FTC commissioners voted against the foundation of enforcing the guideline against effectively being app makers. They mentioned that information sharing with out permission isn’t the similar thing as a breach of information security.

Even supposing the effectively being breach notification rule appears kinda wonky and in-the-weeds, here’s why it’s basic:

The FTC has a situation of tools it can presumably exercise to provide protection to folks when they’re privateness is violated, and this rule is a fashion of tools. So, it’s upright the fashion of thing folks like commissioner Chopra and his fellow FTC commissioner, Rebecca Slaughter, desire to stare the FTC with out a doubt exercise in suppose to acquire beefy benefit of the foundations and powers they like got neutral now.

I spoke in July with commissioner Slaughter.


We don’t step by step need new suggestions, we like loads of suggestions that we don’t step by step put in power or don’t put in power as broadly or recurrently as we might perchance presumably moreover and so making inch we are with out a doubt inspecting our total toolbox and making exercise of the complete thing that’s appropriate even earlier than we safe to adding new tools is one thing that I like idea used to be basic for several years and is in particular basic as we care for original forms of issues.


She formula new forms of issues. And in many programs, she formula new and original issues ended in by information-gobbling tech. The Flo case — it’s upright one instance of why the FTC has garnered a standing as being too outmoded. 

Let’s discuss Fb.

The FTC has long gone after Fb extra than once, however many give it some idea upright hasn’t cracked down exhausting ample on the firm. Assist in 2012 the company settled with Fb, resolving costs that the firm lied to folks by many times allowing their information to be shared and made public even supposing it advised them their information would be saved non-public.

The FTC ordered Fb now to no longer assemble it all over again and mentioned it can presumably song the firm carefully to model certain it didn’t misrepresent the privateness controls or safeguards it has in place apart.  

But then Cambridge Analytica occurred. 

Sound montage from news experiences:

It’s an on-line information war where on the total unseen hands harvest your non-public information tapping into your hopes and fears for the supreme political yield.

In 2014, you might perchance perchance presumably moreover like taken a quiz on-line and once you doubtlessly did you virtually indubitably shared your non-public information and your chums non-public information with a firm that worked for President Trump’s 2016 marketing and marketing campaign.

I stumbled on out that the understanding that used to be handed on to Cambridge Analytica used to be my public profile, my birthday, my recent metropolis and my internet page likes. 

Kogan blended the quiz results alongside with your Fb information to model a psychometric mannequin, a fashion of personality profile. 

Zuck is in the end speaking out about Fb’s Cambridge Analytica scandal.

So, this used to be a basic breach of belief and I’m with out a doubt sorry that this occurred.


There used to be no shortage of media experiences and investigations into Cambridge Analytica and the design in which the firm’s psychological advert focusing on influenced voters within the 2016 election.

The FTC had authority to assemble one thing about it. They mentioned, “Wait a minute, Fb — by letting that information gathering occur for your platform, you violated our 2012 agreement.”

So, in 2019 the FTC charged Fb with deceiving its customers about how non-public their non-public information with out a doubt is, and it fined Fb what the FTC called a “chronicle-breaking” penalty: $5 billion. 

But now no longer all americans used to be gratified about it. Some mentioned the settlement used to be yet any other lame lunge by the FTC. Alongside with a total bunch FTC observers, both commissioners Chopra and Slaughter pushed support exhausting on what they noticed as a used settlement with Fb — one which did microscopic to deter the firm from participating within the similar worn information tactics in due course.

Here’s commissioner Chopra talking to CNBC.


This settlement is filled with giveaways and items for Fb.

There’s plenty for their investors to love an excellent time. On the extinguish of the day, this settlement does nothing to repair the traditional incentives of their broken behavioral marketing and marketing mannequin. It ends in surveillance, manipulation and all sorts of issues for our democracy and our economy.


Commissioner Chopra echoed what a total bunch critics mentioned: that fining one amongst the field’s biggest digital advert sellers — a firm that took in extra than $70 billion in revenue that year — a 5 billion buck penalty used to be meaningless. 

Slaughter, in her dissent, mentioned she used to be skeptical that the terms of the settlement — with out inserting extra limits on how Fb collects, uses and shares folks’s information — would favor any basic disciplining extinguish on how the firm treats information and privateness going forward. 

Slaughter advised me she expects in future cases against companies that the FTC will lunge toward getting more challenging treatments. In other words, restrictions and penalties that resolve the issues and violations they payment companies with.


I anticipate pushing for treatments that with out a doubt safe at the heart of the ache and the incentives that companies face that lead them into the illegal behavior. One other thing we issue about plenty as a original resolve is the deletion of now no longer exclusively information however algorithms which would be constructed out of illegally composed information. 

So, yet any other basic case we had this year used to be called Everalbum which engaging a firm misrepresenting the design in which it used to be the usage of facial picture information, facial recognition information about folks, and in our suppose we required now no longer exclusively for them to delete the information that they composed however moreover to delete the algorithm that they constructed from that information. That’s with out a doubt basic because in fashions that exercise information to compose analytical tools like algorithms the underlying information doesn’t with out a doubt change into basic at the extinguish of the day, it’s the tool that they constructed from it.


Yep. The FTC has begun to power companies to smash their algorithms. And it can presumably moreover very effectively be upright the starting. The company might perchance presumably moreover now no longer exclusively quiz of that companies delete information they gathered by unfounded practices, however this can power them to smash the algorithms they constructed with that information.

Which formula they’d like to safe rid of the complex code and data flowing by their computerized systems. This with out a doubt scares tech companies because in many cases, the aim they’re amassing all this information within the first place apart is to compose and feed algorithms that model computerized choices and be taught as they ingest increasingly information. 

We trip algorithms in our lives every day. When Amazon recommends merchandise, that’s an algorithm making these ideas. When Spotify or Netflix serves up yet any other song or movie that they occupy you’ll like, an algorithm did it. Even when we pressure for the time being. That computerized driver support characteristic that helps your automobile stay in a lane on the motorway? You guessed it: an algorithm. 

And the aim folks give apps like Flo non-public effectively being information like when their period starts and whether or now no longer they had cramps, it’s so the app and the algorithm it uses can model extra correct predictions and reinforce over time. 

Here’s Rebecca Slaughter.


No one talks about this however that used to be one thing we required of Cambridge Analytica too. In our suppose against Cambridge Analytica we required them to delete now no longer exclusively the information however the algorithms that they constructed from the information, which used to be what made their tool treasured and precious.

That used to be a basic portion of the for me in that case. I feel this can continue to be basic as we stare at why are companies amassing information that they shouldn’t be amassing, how will we tackle these incentives, now no longer upright the skin stage observe that’s problematic.


Cambridge Analytica effectively shut down after that. 

While the FTC won’t point out specifics about the design in which it shows companies for compliance with its settlements, the contrivance used to be a mark of what a extra-aggressive FTC might perchance presumably moreover like in retailer — in particular for companies whose companies rely on information and algorithms. 

Alysa Hutnik heads up the privateness and data security observe at Kelley Drye and Warren. They’re a laws company that represents tech companies. She and her clients are step by step in search of changes at the FTC that might perchance presumably moreover have an effect on their companies.


You don’t desire to finally extinguish up with a resolution by the FTC that you violated the laws because that starts with on the total a settlement discussion, and the settlement is all about altering your microscopic industrial practices. The place apart, if the FTC thinks that you’ve performed one thing contaminated then one amongst the treatments that they are very extra special taking a watch at now is, “Enact we delete about a of your fashions and your algorithmic resolution making.” Neatly, what does that assemble? I mean, in case your mannequin has to safe erased, are you starting from scratch on some pretty substantive issues? And that clearly affects the price of the industrial and with out a doubt what you might perchance perchance presumably assemble going forward.


Within the Flo case, the firm didn’t like to smash its algorithm. Even supposing Flo Health got caught sharing information with companies with out permission, they did, as some distance because the FTC is engaging, just like the OK from folks to exercise the information composed from them to support it observe their sessions.

And Flo plans to continue bettering its algorithm. When the firm composed $50 million in mission capital funding in September, it mentioned it can presumably exercise the money to model its app even extra personalized and provide customers with superior insights into their menstrual cycles and symptom patterns to support them put together and reinforce their effectively being.

Flo Health is aloof actively marketing and marketing its app attempting to safe extra customers. It started working advertisements on Fb in September promoting an replace to its app. The firm is even sending swag to influencers.


Whats up, all. Enact we issue about this field that I upright got from Flo? Peep at this, phenomenally on my period [laughs].


In July, Flo despatched a goodie field to Jay Palumbo, a humorist and ladies’s effectively being point out who writes for Forbes and other publications. She advised me she never did any work for Flo or promoted the firm, however she tweeted out a video exhibiting off the items she got from them.

So, even supposing Flo Health used to be charged with unfair and unfounded information sharing, the firm doesn’t appear to love neglected a beat. They even like a podcast.


Here’s your body your tale, a podcast by Flo.


But it’s now no longer upright privateness elements folks criticize the FTC for being too outmoded on. They moreover instruct the company is ineffectual with regards to its other basic spot of oversight, antitrust and competition, or ensuring market equity. 

Build it this design: it’s now no longer refined to hunt down articles or, like, interviews with pundits calling the FTC a assemble-nothing company, one which has failed to provide protection to folks with regards to the complete thing from pharma mark gouging to inadequate penalties for tech companies.


The FTC beforehand had been a moderately toothless company in going up against these form of sizable tech companies.


But that appears to be altering. 

And there’s one person in advise who’s pushing for that fluctuate: Lina Khan.

Sound montage from news experiences:

This used to be a fashion of ‘oh wow’ moment for me after I heard the name Lina Khan this morning. Snarl me extra about why Lina Khan is this form of sizable deal and why tech companies would be a microscopic bit of apprehensive about this news.

This used to be a controversial lunge led by the new FTC chair Lina Khan for the length of her first public meeting and it can presumably moreover mark extra aggressive motion, in particular against sizable tech in due course.

[Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan] The federal change payment urge by Biden democrats who desire to repair systemic racism, folks who desire your microscopic industrial to fail, Soros-backed folks.

Fb is looking out out for the recusal of FTC chair Lina Khan.


In portion two of Raze Your Algorithm, we’ll be taught extra about why this worn innovative laws college professor ruffled sizable tech feathers even earlier than she used to be named as chair of the FTC. We’ll issue a couple of few of the FTC’s most modern moves and the design in which they might perchance presumably moreover rein in excessive information series that propels tech energy. And we’ll analyze why the FTC’s lunge into extra partisan political territory might perchance presumably moreover backfire.

That’s it for this first episode of our two-portion series. Particular attributable to our producer Sara Patterson, and to Portland, Oregon multi-instrumentalist and songwriter D. Rives Curtright for supplying our killer tune. You might perchance presumably moreover safe him on most streaming platforms.

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