At a Technology Policy Institute conference in Colorado in August, Politico interviewed two FTC commissioners about data security and privacy issues of concern to survey, opinion and marketing researchers.
Asked about data security bills in Congress, FTC Commissioner Julie Brill said she had thought that the rash of high-profile security breaches early in the year and the rising costs of breaches “would help make the issue rise to the top.” However, the multiple bills in the House and Senate (S. 1927, S. 1897, S. 1976, S. 1995, S. 1193, H.R. 1468) have not been advanced, and Brill is pessimistic that anything will happen this year. Still, “a world in which Congress is not acting does not mean others are not acting,” noted Brill, who sees state Attorneys General trying to fill the gap, particularly Massachusetts.
Politico asked Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen about some of the agency’s most recent privacy and data security cases. While she declined to respond to questions about the FTC’s privacy case against Amazon, for which Senator Deb Fischer recently criticized the agency. When asked if a company like Apple corrects a privacy problem, for instance, “is the FTC still likely to bring a case anyway,” Ohlhausen answered that she wants to know how the company responds once they know about the harm. Do they dawdle in fixing the problem? “That’s when I begin to think we need to pay attention” and the FTC needs to investigate. “By the end of that investigation, a company may have finally got around to remedying the harm. But if we at the end close the file, I’m not sure that’s creating the right incentives for companies when a consumer harm arises.”
On the broader topic of mobile privacy, Ohlhausen promised that the FTC’s work is still ongoing. “We’ve focused pretty heavily in the app space, to push on privacy and disclosures. …I think we already have started to see responses from the industry.” While the NTIA multistakeholder privacy process for mobile apps privacy petered out in 2013, many companies have moved ahead with efforts to provide greater transparency to mobile consumers. The FTC has also spurred industry to try to address location data privacy in the mobile space.
Ohlhausen and Brill were both on the top 10 list of government players in consumer privacy in 2014.