Privacy Regulations Could Address 'Commercial Surveillance' Harms, FTC Chair Says

Days after taking the first steps toward issuing new privacy rules, Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan expressed concerns to a lawmaker over companies' current data practices.

“I share your concerns about commercial surveillance and am committed to ensuring the FTC is using its full suite of tools to protect Americans from unfair or deceptive practices online,” Khan said in a letter to Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut).

Blumenthal, along with eight other Senate Democrats, recently urged the FTC to pass privacy rules that could require companies to obtain consumers' explicit consent before using their personal data.

Late last week, the FTC said in a regulatory filing that it was considering "initiating a rulemaking under section 18 of the FTC Act to curb lax security practices, limit privacy abuses, and ensure that algorithmic decision-making does not result in unlawful discrimination.”



Khan noted that filing in her letter to Blumenthal, adding: “Rulemaking may prove a useful tool to address the breadth of challenges and harms that can result from commercial surveillance and other data practices. Critically, rules could establish clear market-wide requirements and address potential harms on a broader scale.”

The FTC chair appeared particularly critical of the current online privacy framework -- which typically involves notifying consumers about how their data is used, and allowing them to opt out.

“Evidence suggests that the current configuration of commercial data practices do not actually reveal how much users value privacy or security,” she wrote.

She added that users “often lack a real set of alternatives and cannot reasonably forego using technologies that are increasingly critical for navigating modern life.”

“A growing recognition that the 'notice-and-consent' framework has serious shortcomings further highlights the need to consider a new paradigm,” Khan wrote.

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