Active FTC Continues to Be Focused on Data Brokers

Published On August 23, 2013 | By Jon Frankel | FTC & State AG, Privacy
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FTC NIGHTTIMEIt’s August in D.C. Summer is coming to an end; the kids are going back to school; traffic is still (blissfully) light and normally, the federal government is at best sleepy – at worst, in a coma. Not the Federal Trade Commission or its Chairwoman Edith Ramirez.

In prepared remarks given at the annual Technology Policy Institute Aspen Forum, Ramirez made clear that the FTC continues to be focused on big data and intends to be a big data “lifeguard.”   Ramirez notes that big data provides transformative benefits to consumers and businesses, but raises significant concerns about consumer privacy. The FTC’s role, according to Ramirez, is to act as the “vigilant lifeguard” who will “not spoil anyone’s fun” by stopping the innovation that big data provides, but will make sure that consumer privacy is not hurt, but rather respected, during this big data beach fiesta.

How is this possible? The solutions to protecting consumer privacy with big data are, according to Ramirez, no different than other privacy challenges the FTC has been addressing for years. The key is for businesses to follow the three core principles laid out in the FTC’s 2012 Privacy Report: privacy-by-design, simplified choice, and greater transparency. With respect to big data, this means that companies need to be transparent about all of the information they collect through concise, simple and easy-to-read privacy notices and other disclosures to consumers. Further, no companies should collect data that they don’t need and all companies must ensure that consumers have meaningful choices about the collection of all data. In fact, it is critical that consumer choice is available before the data gets big because big data only exists through the collection, aggregation and analysis and many small pieces of data.  In addition, the companies who acquire and maintain large sets of consumer data must be “responsible stewards of that information” through reasonable security.

While Ramirez recognizes that big data has the “potential to unleash a new wave of productivity and growth” the FTC lifeguard will “remain vigilant to ensure that … consumer privacy is not engulfed by that wave.” Stay tuned.


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About The Author

Jon Frankel has been advising clients on privacy, data security, e-commerce, intellectual property and litigation matters for more than 15 years. Jon provides practical advice to mitigate privacy and data security risks and helps clients navigate a myriad of complex data collection, use and sharing cases. Jon advises on health and children’s privacy; email, SMS and telemarketing; mobile applications; user generated content; contests, promotions, and sweepstakes, online gaming; and requests from law enforcement. Prior to joining ZwillGen, Jon was a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Bingham McCutchen, LLP, where he co-chaired the Privacy and Security Group.