New FTC Chair Makes Privacy Priority But Favors Voluntary Road
Newly appointed FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez is no less committed than was her predecessor Jon Leibowitz to making online privacy a priority of the Commission. “We haven’t been shy about taking on the tech giants,” she said to The Hill last week. she cited recent findings against Facebook and Google, describing them as “in my mind vital and will continue.”
At the same time, however, Ramirez seems a bit less likely than Leibowitz to invoke the threat of legislative solutions if voluntary ones fall short. She told The Hill that when it came to the do-not-track initiative of letting consumers opt out of all online tracking, she leaned towards joint and voluntary cooperation among the technology and media stakeholders. She believes that in spite of recent legislative initiatives by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) claiming consensus on DNT has not been achieved, the industry will find a way to make a system work.
At a keynote and discussions hosted by the International Association of Privacy Professionals, Ramirez had her first public platform for her views on the topic since her appointment. She focused her comments especially on extending protection to a new generation of mobile devices as well as a range of new connected products like TVs and cars. She announced plans to hold a workshop on how this new Internet of Things will impact thinking and policy around privacy.
Perhaps the most important disclosure the new FTC Chair made at the event regarded her willingness to interpret the FTC’s consumer protection rights broadly, even when a company does not explicitly violate existing rules against deceptive and anti-competitive practices. She thinks the FTC should follow a so-called “fairness doctrine” that allows it to enact sanctions against companies also deemed unfair in ways that harm the consumer.
In an earlier interview with Ramirez in 2010 when she was first appointed a Commissioner, she underscored her interest in the intersection of privacy issues online and the larger question of data security for consumers. “Online privacy and data security are areas in which the FTC is playing a vital role as both a thought leader and a law enforcer,” she said.” I intend to be especially involved in technology issues as they relate to the cross-border dimensions of privacy and data security.”
President Obama appointed Ramirez Chair of the FTC in early February, a post she assumed on March 2. Previously she had been specializing in business law, unfair practices suits, intellectual property, and non-competitive practices at the Los Angeles firm of Quinn Emmanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.