Panelists Discuss FTC's New Privacy, Tech Focus

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By George R. Lynch

Nov. 18 — The Federal Trade Commission's focus on technology and privacy is becoming more effective as more expertise and resources are brought to bear, an FTC official said Nov. 18.

“Finally we have the resources to dive into a lot of the tech issues” that the FTC has been interested in, such as cross-device tracking, Justin Brookman, the policy director of the FTC's recently-formed Office of Technology Research and Investigation (OTRI), said.

Brookman joined a panel of Industry professionals to discuss the FTC's new focus on technology and privacy at the International Association of Privacy Professionals' Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Privacy conference.

The OTRI, which was formed in 2015 as the successor to FTC's Mobile Technology Unit, includes a “tech lab,” where the 8-9 staffers have access a variety of technologies for research purposes that was never available to the FTC.

Consumer Education 

What this new tech focus in the FTC means for private businesses, is that they have much more access to basic research and white papers that the FTC produces and can provide to companies, according to Carly Huth, privacy counsel for Coca-Cola Co. “The key linchpin for the business community is awareness and education,” said Huth.

The “Start with Security” program, a guide for businesses based on lessons the FTC has learned from its cases, “is very useful, as well as the practicality the FTC has shown around data security and privacy,” Huth said.

“One of the key things we use the FTC for is consumer information; setting expectations on what consumers want.”

Building Relationships With Hackers 

Recognizing that it doesn't have the resources to be on top of every new technology issue that arises, one of the goals of the new FTC tech push through OTRI is outreach. One part of our mission is to reach out to the academic community, building relationships with the hacker community, and we would like to do more with industry,” Brookman said.

“The question I would have from a business perspective is how global of a perspective the FTC has when formulating best practices. I hope the FTC takes global standards into account,” Huth said. “Established standards can be very useful, especially for startups.”

Keeping up with new technologies and synthesizing U.S. and global practices into sound guidance will be a challenge for the FTC, and specifically OTRI, going forward. If companies, and others with an interest in privacy and data security, among other technology issues, can draw the FTC's attention to new practices, “hopefully we can be involved,” Brookman said.

To contact the reporter on this story: George R. Lynch in Washington at glynch@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jimmy H. Koo at jkoo@bna.com