By Alexei Alexis
Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill said March 20 that she did not expect to see any major surprises in the agency's privacy agenda under its new leader, Edith Ramirez.
Efforts that have been picking up steam at the agency, such as protecting consumer privacy in the mobile space, are unlikely to go away anytime soon, Brill said, speaking at the Association of National Advertisers' Advertising Law & Public Policy Conference.
“I do think the commission will probably stay on roughly the same course that we've been on for the past three to four years,” she said. “I don't think there are going to be any major surprises.”
The White House announced Feb. 28 that Ramirez had been tapped by President Obama to replace former FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, who had announced his resignation (12 PVLR 368, 3/4/13). Ramirez, a Democrat who has served on the commission since 2010, began her new job as chairman March 4.
On March 8, Ramirez made her public debut in her new role at a conference sponsored by the International Association of Privacy Professionals, where she signaled plans to pursue an active enforcement agenda in the area of privacy, following in the footsteps of her predecessor (12 PVLR 478, 3/18/13). Specifically, she said her priorities include vigorous enforcement of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and protection of privacy in the mobile space.
On the policy front, the FTC is likely to continue with initiatives already under way, such as investigating privacy concerns surrounding the data broker industry, which collects and compiles consumer information for the purpose of selling it to third parties, according to Brill, who is also a Democrat. She noted that several leading data brokers were ordered in December 2012 to provide the agency with details about their practices (11 PVLR 1845, 12/24/12).
“At some point, I hope within this year, we'll have a report out on the results of that study,” Brill said.
She also noted that Ramirez has expressed an interest in a new study on the so-called “internet of things”--a computing concept that envisions a future where everyday physical objects will be connected to the internet and will be able to identify themselves to other devices.
Brill told BNA after her remarks to the conference that she remains interested in seeing the development of an industry-led do not track mechanism that would make it easier for consumers to avoid having their online activities followed by companies. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international organization that develops internet standards, is facilitating a do not track effort, but key issues are still being worked out.
“I think that do not track is still a very important initiative, and I believe Chairman Ramirez feels the same way,” Brill said. “We are definitely monitoring what is happening with respect to the W3C and other conversations that are under way. … I don't want to put artificial deadlines on it, but I think we're all interested in seeing this issue get wrapped up soon, because consumers need [a do not track mechanism].”
“I do think the commission will probably stay on roughly the same course that we've been on for the past three to four years. I don't think there are going to be any major surprises.”
Asked whether legislative action would be appropriate if the industry effort fails, Brill said: “If the whole process breaks down and doesn't go forward, I think Congress should take a look at whether or not they want to require [do not track]. It will clearly be up to them, but I think this is an important issue, and I think there are members of Congress who would be interested in taking a look at it.”
Meanwhile, observers are closely watching who Ramirez will appoint to serve as director of the agency's Bureau of Consumer Protection. The FTC announced in December that David Vladeck, who took the job in 2009, was stepping down and that Charles Harwood, previously a deputy director in the bureau, was chosen to serve as acting director (11 PVLR 1844, 12/24/12).
On March 19, a coalition of public interest groups sent a letter to Ramirez that called on her to appoint a permanent bureau director with a “well-established” consumer rights background.
“Given the Bureau's role in protecting consumers from the many challenges they face today, we believe that the new director should be an individual who has been independent of industry, with a record of success protecting the interests of consumers, and with proven leadership ability,” said the letter, which was signed by more than 30 organizations, including Consumers Union, the Center for Digital Democracy, U.S. PIRG, the Consumer Federation of America, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
The March 19 letter to Ramirez from public interest groups is available at http://op.bna.com/der.nsf/r?Open=sbay-95yuaf.