Posted on June 23, 2022

Senate Democrats Press FTC to Protect Marginalized Groups From Marketplace Discrimination

Zach Schonfeld, The Hill, June 22, 2022

A group of seven Democratic and Democratic-caucusing senators sent a letter to Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Kahn on Wednesday calling on the agency to use “every tool at its disposal” to protect marginalized groups from discrimination in the marketplace.


“We write to urge the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to use the full scope of its authority to protect members of Black communities, other communities of color and immigrant communities in the United States,” the senators wrote. “Individuals in these communities are uniquely vulnerable to threats from discriminatory online practices, biometric surveillance, consumer predation and anti-competitive behavior.”


The senators pointed to a wide range of research showing that apparently neutral data collection practices and algorithmic technologies can have discriminatory effects.


The senators also argued that the FTC should make racial justice a “core principle” when it considers antitrust decisions, citing research that shows market consolidation has contributed to a decline in minority-owned businesses.

“We agree that the FTC should move away from its traditional ‘value-neutral’ antitrust evaluation and instead move towards an approach that advances racial justice,” they wrote.

The group particularly took aim at facial recognition software, which they argued is capable of “fundamentally threatening” people’s expectation that they can appear in public without being identified.

The senators pointed to a 2019 National Institute of Standards and Technology study that showed facial recognition algorithms were up to 100 times more likely to misidentify Asian and African American faces compared to Caucasians.

“Communities of color are already systematically subjected to over-surveillance, and research shows that private businesses have disproportionately deployed facial recognition technology in non-white neighborhoods,” the senators wrote.