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The FTC's New Enforcement Weapon Spells Death for Algorithms


Forcing companies to delete algorithmic systems built with ill-gotten data could become a more routine approach.

Credit: CreepyCube/iStock/Getty Images

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has struggled over the years to find ways to combat deceptive digital data practices using its limited set of enforcement options. Now, it's landed on one that could have a big impact on tech companies: algorithmic destruction. And as the agency gets more aggressive on tech by slowly introducing this new type of penalty, applying it in a settlement for the third time in three years could be the charm.

In a March 4 settlement order, the agency demanded that WW International—formerly known as Weight Watchers—destroy the algorithms or AI models it built using personal information collected through its Kurbo healthy eating app from kids as young as 8 without parental permission. The agency also fined the company $1.5 million and ordered it to delete the illegally harvested data.

When it comes to today's data-centric business models, algorithmic systems and the data used to build and train them are intellectual property, products that are core to how many companies operate and generate revenue. While in the past the FTC has required companies to disgorge ill-gotten monetary gains obtained through deceptive practices, forcing them to delete algorithmic systems built with ill-gotten data could become a more routine approach, one that modernizes FTC enforcement to directly affect how companies do business.

From Protocol
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