THE NEWLY APPOINTED CHAIR of the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has promised that her organisation will come down hard on companies that do not meet requirements for handling personal data.
FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez gave a keynote speech at the Technology Policy Institute at the Aspen Forum. She said that the FTC has a responsibility to protect consumers and prevent them from falling victim to unfair commercial practices.
"In the FTC's actions against Google, Facebook, Myspace and others, we alleged that each of these companies deceived consumers by breaching commitments to keep their data confidential. That isn't okay, and it is the FTC's responsibility to make sure that companies live up to their commitments," she said.
"All told, the FTC has brought over 40 data security cases under our unfairness and deception authority, many against very large data companies, including Lexisnexis, Choicepoint and Twitter, for failing to provide reasonable security safeguards."
Ramirez spoke about the importance of consumer privacy, saying that there is too much "shrouding" of what happens in that area. She said that under her leadership the FTC will not be afraid of suing companies when it sees fit.
"A recurring theme I have emphasized - and one that runs through the agency's privacy work - is the need to move commercial data practices into the sunlight. For too long, the way personal information is collected and used has been at best an enigma enshrouded in considerable smog. We need to clear the air," she said.
Ramirez compared the work of the FTC to the work carried out by lifeguards, saying that it too has to be vigilant.
"Lifeguards have to be mindful not just of the people swimming, surfing, and playing in the sand. They also have to be alert to approaching storms, tidal patterns, and shifts in the ocean's current. With consumer privacy, the FTC is doing just that - we are alert to the risks but confident that those risks can be managed," she added.
"The FTC recognizes that the effective use of big data has the potential to unleash a new wave of productivity and growth. Like the lifeguard at the beach, though, the FTC will remain vigilant to ensure that while innovation pushes forward, consumer privacy is not engulfed by that wave."
It's all just lip service, of course. Companies might be nominally bound by US privacy laws in online commerce, and that might be overseen by the FTC, but the US National Security Agency (NSA) collects all internet traffic anyway, and makes data available to other US government agencies and even some private companies. µ