Give the F.T.C. Some Teeth to Guard Our Privacy

The agency lacks the legal authority and resources to be a fully effective watchdog. Congress should fix this.


Comments: 32

  1. "I’m not saying it’s simple, but establishing basic privacy norms that all companies must follow, coupled with civil penalties for first-time violations and about 100 new staff members, would be a huge step in the right direction." I was wondering if any of the 23 Democratic Party candidates have even mentioned the word F.T.C. in any statement, policy, platform or otherwise. I do not remember this being the case. If so, what is a burning issue for Ms. Rich may be less burning for others or not viable re Congress regardless of who controls it. I will be happy to be corrected if I am incorrect re either memory or statements of candidates.

  2. As an author of the Data Care Act of 2018, Senator Amy Klobuchar has been at the forefront of online consumer privacy protection since before she announced her candidacy for president. Specifically, in multiple 2018 media interviews with NPR and others, Senator Klobuchar called out Facebook’s violations of the consent decree that it had negotiated with the F.T.C. In 2012. And while Ms. Rich is right, to the extent that Congress should further support the F.T.C.’s efforts to protect privacy, the onus is also on the F.T.C. to better perform and fulfill its consumer protection mission. Yes, we know that the F.T.C. recently reached a landmark settlement with Facebook, but even in this high-profile case, it was only after Senator Klobuchar and other members of Congress demanded that the F.T.C. take action. When the F.T.C. increasingly relies on negotiated consent decrees of varying degrees of effectiveness and which can then be violated without repercussions, then it’s time to think about giving the F.T.C. more than just “teeth.” It needs an extreme makeover. This includes putting an end to the “revolving door” of conflicted attorneys bouncing between lucrative private practice gigs and the F.T.C., and who are often more concerned about offending their former or future clients than fulfilling the F.T.C.’s true intended mission.

  3. @Brett Voris Brian Huseman, Amazon; Julie Brill, Microsoft; Eric Wenger, Cisco; and the list goes on, re: FTC revolving door. Rich is the rare exception.

  4. Sensible first steps, yes, but because it involves new regulations on businesses, more funding for a non-military federal agency, and doesn’t help Alex Jones broaden his audience, there’s zero chance either the Trump administration or congressional Republicans will support it.

  5. Fix this? Congress on behalf of their patrons ensures that agencies like the FTC are kept as impotent as possible. This is exactly how they all want it to be.

  6. All of what has happened was foreseen in the early 90s by anyone who understood psychographic profiling. In fact, in the 1980s, IRI launched BehaviorScan in Marion, Indiana which tracked the grocery purchases and cable advertising seen by a panel of residents. The results permitted IRI customers to develop increasingly effective advertising campaigns. The collection and correlation of user attributes and behavior we are living with now should not be regarded as a minor extension of previous advertising and market research practices.. At scale the immense value of persuasion tech has led to surveillance economics that is atomizing society and leaving jo space for independent thought. Consenting to the assembly of detailed profiles of the most intimate kind (eg, what you read, hear and see; where and who you visit or talk with; your hours of activity,) has become become the price for all but the wealthiest to participate in society. The libertarian argument that anyone is free to opt-out is about as valid as saying that in a world whose air is heavily polluted you can choose to opt-out of breathing.

  7. @Eben--The tRump "administration," and its non-traditional allies around the world, have formed a kind of Cabal, which is slowly consolidating world-wide power, AWAY from the people, and serving only those at the top. You think this is some kind of conspiracy theory? Just wait and see. Particularly if U.S. voters fail to unseat most Republicans in the next (maybe the last) election.

  8. “A strong privacy mandate from Congress could set clear limits on how consumer data can be used, and give the F.T.C. greater power to enforce these limits in litigation.” What does that even mean? Does this mean that Congress would say, “You can use consumer data to sell shoes, but not credit cards?” Or “You can use consumer data to sell magazine subscriptions, but not for micro targeting for elections?” Since the richest, most useful consumer data is what people themselves provide (on Facebook, surveys, consumer feedback questionnaires, etc.) attempts to “regulate privacy” are futile. That train has left the station, and it’s not coming back. What do you do, after all, when the little box comes up and tells you that the site you’re on uses cookies. Yes, you click “Okay,” and move on. What Congress can do is set limits on who and can buy and sell consumer data. But Congress barely understands the Internet, and it certainly doesn’t understand online marketing and the plethora of companies involved in it, so that’s not going to happen. Jessica Rich should just leave it at, “The FTC needs more money to effectively work on it’s current mandate.” Period.

  9. Nice, but I guess you want to get this out there. Because it doesn’t stand a snowballs chance presently.

  10. This piece makes me laugh. We are supposed to count on the US government to protect our privacy ...you gotta be kidding me,

  11. @Dana Koch Exactly. And not sure Rich should overstate her role at FTC, when its privacy orders have been wrist-slaps and/or ineffectual, for deterrence or otherwise. Forget about the $ amounts of the orders; have you seen any FTC consent order requiring private info currently held to be DESTROYED before new injunctive provisions kick in? Or any such order mandating what the new [1/1/2020] California consumer privacy law requires? No, of course not.

  12. Like all other agencies, tRump and Republicrooks have defunded, defenestrated, and disappeared the power of the FTC, which is supposed to serve the public interest, but no longer does. We MUST stop them! tRump appointees are doing exactly the opposite of the stated mission of this agency, as well as all others.

  13. This issue of privacy protection, especially data generated in consumer transactions cannot be addressed just by extending regulatory mandates and/or detailing protocols further. The law must be clear on who owns the data, just because I ordered sneakers on line my data should be deemed common property to used by anyone at will. I think one way to deal with this is to extend copyright laws to personal data. My data cannot be used for any purpose other than the purpose at the point of interaction, I am implicitly denying permission to have my data to be used or shared until an agreement between me and the next user is reached. That establishes my right and there is cause for litigation if this right is violated. I should not be relying on a regulatory agency to guard my right, I am relying on the judiciary. Markets being what they are, it is quite likely that a business model would develop to build clearing houses that People would subscribe and volunteer information in return for royalties if that is used by a commercial entity. Data sets of dubious integrity are being constructed and sold right and left with a lot money is being made without owners of data being aware of where their information end up. Most people would participate in a system like this if 1) they have control in releasing some of their data and 2) secure an income stream. The businesses who utilize others’ data may have higher costs but offer higher quality analytics and less costly regulation and risk.

  14. Yes to a federal privacy law, but a strong privacy law will not likely emanate from the efforts of Rich's client, Privacy for America, a group of marketers who are chiefly interested in stopping California's strong privacy law from taking effect (as it is scheduled to do in 2020).

  15. @the_biscuit Oh, so revolving door for her, too! Nice! Its Steering Committee Members are the ad industry: American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) Association of National Advertisers (ANA) Digital Advertising Alliance Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Network Advertising Initiative (NAI)

  16. Of course Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell suddenly will acquire consciences and see to it that this is done. If they were to support a privacy law, they'd do so only as a way of trying to suppress information that would be embarrassing to people like them.

  17. Give any government agency more leeway to do what it should? Not while Trump is trying to either disband them entirely or insist on their personal loyalty. He should have been removed from office by now.

  18. Um, good idea, except the current leadership at the FTC has already demonstrated that they are more interested in expanding the rights of corporations than protecting those of consumers.

  19. Ajit Pai is Chairman of the FCC, not the FTC. @Kput

  20. Re: Give the F.T.C. Some Teeth to Guard Our Privacy The agency lacks the legal authority and resources to be a fully effective watchdog. Congress should fix this. Ms Rich You need to follow the money. If you did, you would find out that Facebook is the number one donor to Ms. Pelosi in the 2018 election cycle [1] and the 2020 election cycle [2] The Democratic Congress, headed by Ms. Pelosi, has NO interest in destroying the number one campaign donor to its leader - Squad excepted. Data below. 2018 Cycle, Ms Pelosi, Campaign Committee Fundraising, 2017 - 2018 LAST REPORT: 12/31/2018 https://www.opensecrets.org/members-of-congress/summary/nancy-pelosi?cid=N00007360 Facebook is #1, Amazon # 4, Google #5 2018-2019 Election Cycle https://www.opensecrets.org/members-of-congress/summary/nancy-pelosi?cid=N00007360&cycle=2020&type=I

  21. Guard our Privacy? Job killing mommy government useless regulation. The American people want free stuff, no matter how much it costs, no matter what it costs, and tech companies know it.

  22. Companies are not allowed to own you and sell you. That would be slavery. But today, as the Privacy Project keeps showing, we are all digital serfs of GOOG-FB-AMZN and all the others who own, sell, and use our data to understand and predict us better than we know ourselves. Don't take my word, ask Google, Siri, or Alexa. There is no requirement that they get rid of data over 1, 5, or 10 years old. No regulation of how they use our personal documents, pictures, or messages. No HIPPA-type rules or 'public interest' limitations on their digital ownership if digital you and me. Enough, already. #YourDataIsYourData

  23. Why is this so hard? My data belongs to me, hard stop. If you collect it without my consent that is called theft, a crime. If you want my data you must be required to ask for it and not with some convoluted privacy statement or as a condition to use some silly website or on-line app. It is a simple question, may I collect the following data from you for the following purpose(s), yes or no. Done!

  24. @Lean More to the Left Capitalism says, your data belongs to whoever can harvest and sell it.

  25. In related news, in Europe a guy used the General Data Protection Regulation to cause companies to reveal confidential information to him. That the information concerned his girlfriend, who consented to the experiment, doesn't change the fact that he was able to game the system, largely by using the incompetence and fear in the organizations against them. Rather than risk falling foul of the GDPR they turned over the information despite getting only nominal proof that he was who he claimed to be. Fun, isn't it?

  26. Once the FTC gets "the legal authority and resources to be a fully effective watchdog", corporations and their congressional allies will transform it from "watchdog" to "lapdog". Dem party partisans will shriek, "not the Democrats", but just remind them how Obama appointed a former telecom lobbyist to the FCC - twice. Effective regulation pretty much ended decades ago, but the Republicans continue to use "deregulation" rhetoric to fool their base into thinking that there is still mostly effective regulation. The dem party base is just as gullible.

  27. While I entirely support greater authority for Federal agencies to act firmly in the interests of the American people, it would behoove us to remember they, too, are often huge bureaucracies, with all the characteristics of bureaucracies (think of your DMV office or local roads department) that you don't like, regardless of the policy or leadership's political orientation. Worthy of looking at in that regard is the fundamentally reliable FiveThirtyEight on a specific example, the usually trusted and popular C.D.C. "How One Hospital Skewed The CDC’s Gun Injury Estimate" https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-one-hospital-skewed-the-cdcs-gun-injury-estimate/

  28. The F.T.C.’s ongoing failures, including its pathetic record of consumer privacy protections, are not limited to any one party or president. Blaming President Trump, Senator McConnell, the GOP, or the current F.T.C leadership is to ignore the F.T.C.’s “revolving door” tradition of appointing conflicted attorneys, who put their personal career ambitions (and thus their former/future clients’ interests) ahead of the public’s interest. This has resulted in, as one career F.T.C. attorney has said, F.T.C. leadership literally prohibiting career attorneys from enforcing certain consent degrees on behalf of American consumers. But when the F.T.C. refuses to protect American consumers, who then is it actually protecting (without authorization or authority)? In most cases, consent decrees go unchecked after the F.T.C. has issued it’s self-congratulating press releases. This is why I mentioned Senator Klobuchar’s 2018 interviews with NPR in my previous comment, as I found it shocking to hear a member of Congress actually calling out Facebook for violating its existing 2012 Consent Decree and demanding F.T.C. enforcement. But in reality, what should be shocking, is the F.T.C.’s increasing use of ineffectual and unenforced consent decree that merely give the illusion of protecting the American consumer.

  29. Claiming that everyone is free to opt-out of our surveillance-polluted economy makes as much sense as claiming that everyone is free to opt-out of breathing in a smog-polluted atmosphere.

  30. Thank you to California and Europe for taking some initiative on this issue. If Congress is hamstrung, maybe our own state, Illinois, and other states should follow their example.

  31. Ms. Rich, My Life, a data collector is really a protection racket. It sends threatening-sounding emails and gives you access to other people's "reputation ratings" that you never asked for. I've tried to get the FTC and my Congressional representatives interested in this to no avail. Can you help?